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Arrests in Cameroon

in CAMEROON, 14/06/2006

Seven Men Convicted and Sentenced on Sodomy Charges

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has learned that seven of the nine men who have been on trial for homosexuality in Cameroon have been found guilty of “sodomy” and sentenced to a 10- month jail term. Since the men have already been detained in a Kondegui Prison in Yaoundé for more than one year, they are expected to be released shortly for time served. One of the men, Christian Angoula, suffered a homophobic attack by fellow prisoners last week and had to be carried into the courtroom. Two of the men--Ayissi Francois and Lamba Marc Lambert--were acquitted of all charges.

“We can only begin to imagine the impact that unfair imprisonment and now these bogus convictions has had on these men,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Senior Coordinator for Africa. “The abuse they have suffered is unacceptable.”

“One wonders on what basis the convictions were made as there was no evidence presented by the prosecution of the commission of sodomy,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director, explaining that homosexuality per se is not a crime in Cameroon and conviction on sodomy charges requires being apprehended or witnessed in the act. “These men were railroaded and the guilty verdicts make a mockery of the Cameroonian justice system. IGLHRC salutes the lawyers and activists who stood by them,” she continued. “And though they may be leaving prison, they do so under a cloud and with their lives in tatters. This verdict does not bode well for freedom in Cameroon.

Two other men were convicted on sodomy charges earlier this year and sentenced to one year in prison. Four women are awaiting trial on the same charges. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has declared that sodomy laws are inconsistent with countries’ obligations to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. At its 39th Session in Banjul, Gambia last month, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also questioned the Cameroonian government about its continued detention of the men.

The West African nation has become famous this past year for detention of its citizens on “sodomy charges,” sanctioning the expelling of young women from secondary schools for their stated sexual orientation, and for “gay baiting” high level officials and public personalities with charges of homosexuality in local papers. IGLHRC believes that in the past year at least 30 young people, mainly girls, have been thrown out of their academic institutions on suspicion of same-sex behavior and identity. Two men were recently arrested in an Internet dating sting, but then released, and four lesbian women are reportedly in police custody.

In a communication to IGLHRC, the Minister of Justice in Cameroon, Mr. Amadou Ali, had justified the detention of the men in Yaoundé as ensuring “that positive African cultural values are preserved.” According to Mr. Ali, “homosexuality is not a value accepted in the Cameroonian society.” Section 347(bis) Ordinance No 72-16 of the 28 September 1972 penal code, makes homosexuality an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. Public sentiment regarding gay and lesbian identity is harsh and most same-gender loving people live lives shrouded in secrecy and fear.

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, 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. The verdict was announced yesterday morning in Cameroon.

A photo of human rights attorney Alice Nkom with a number of the Yaoundé 11 detainees in Cameroon is available from Ellen Vaz at 212-229-0540 or evaz@geoffreyknox.com.
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