Alice Nkom, one of the Yaounde Nine’s lawyers
Cameroon: Government Refuses to Release Nine Men Discharged on Homosexuality Charges
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has learned that the Cameroonian government has refused to release nine men jailed on charges of homosexuality despite the April 21 dismissal of their case. The men have been detained in Kondegui Prison in Yaoundé for nearly a year. At their initial trial, no witnesses were called and no proof offered by the prosecution, so Judge Tonye, the magistrate overseeing the case, threw out the case. The men expected to be released from prison quickly but the prosecutor’s office has refused to order their release and has said that the men will be retried.
“You arrest people unfairly, violate their rights for almost a year, and then refuse to release them—this constitutes an abuse of power,” Duga Titanji, the men’s attorney in Cameroon, told IGLHRC. “With no new arrest warrant being served, this is now a blatant case of arbitrary detention.”
IGLHRC was alerted to the arrests of the men within days of its occurrence on May 21, 2005 and arranged for Mr. Titanji to take their case. Along with local and international human rights advocates, IGLHRC has repeatedly demanded the unconditional release of the nine men to both Cameroonian and United Nations officials, and provided emergency assistance to help the men survive the harsh conditions of their detention.
“The Cameroonian government has upended the entire judicial process by holding these men without trial for nearly a year and now sending them back into judicial limbo,” stated Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Coordinator for Africa at IGLHRC. “We will work with Cameroonian activists to confront this unfair action in the courts and at the national and international diplomatic levels.”
Background on the case of Yaoundé 11:
On 21 May 2005, gendarmes from the Nlongka Brigade arrested 17 men at a nightclub believed to frequented by gays and lesbians. These arrests were first reported by the local newspaper, Mutations, and were confirmed by the United States Embassy in Cameroon. National television in Cameroon and local Channel 2 broadcasted images of the young men after their arrest. The 11 men who remained in detention were those too poor to find a means to be released or to hire a lawyer. Many have been abandoned by their families due to publicity related to the case.
In July 2005, IGLHRC and Behind the Mask, a South Africa-based LGBT media outlet and human rights organization, launched a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the detainees, but the government failed to release the men.
In December 2005, IGLHRC delivered a letter to the Minister of Justice of Cameroon urging him to release the 11 men detained for the last seven months on suspicion of “sodomy” and to prevent a government-ordered “medical examination” to determine whether the men had engaged in homosexual conduct. Seven other human rights organizations—both American and African—signed the letter to S.E. Monsieur Amadou Ali, entreating the minister to prevent the medical examinations that had been ordered by a government prosecutor.
A trial date was set for March 17, 2006. Shortly before the trial began, two of the men were released, ostensibly due to lack of evidence.
On March 17, 2006, at the opening of the trial, the prosecution seemed ill prepared and had no witnesses to present. Rather than dismissing the case, the judge postponed the trial until April 21, 2006.
On April 21, a trial was convened, but the prosecution again produced no witnesses and no proof of the charges against the nine men. Magistrate Tonye dismissed the case for lack of evidence. The men waited nearly two weeks for release but were taken back into custody immediately. No new date has been set for their next court appearance.