M. Jean-Claude Robert FOE
Prosecutor General of the Central Appeals Court
May 17, 2013
To the Prosecutor General of the Central Appeals Court:
We, the undersigned organizations, write to respectfully urge you to discontinue the prosecution of Jonas Singa Kumié and Franky Djome on charges of homosexual conduct.
Jonas and Franky, who identify as women, were arrested in July 2011 by police who stopped their vehicle and saw that they were dressed in women’s clothing. Police claimed that Jonas, Franky, and a third person were “groping” each other in the car. They were convicted of homosexual conduct in November 2011 by a judge who suggested that because they were drinking Bailey’s liqueur the night of the arrest – which the judge considered a “women’s drink” –they must be homosexual.
On January 7, 2013, the Central Appeals Court of Yaoundé issued a judgment overturning the trial court decision. The Appeals Court reasoned that the lower court had improperly relied upon confessions that Jonas and Franky made under duress in police custody. It faulted the prosecution for failing to present any witnesses who had actually seen the alleged offense take place, relying instead on a police inspector who simply vouched for his colleague’s report. It also found that even if there were truth to the police report that the vehicle’s occupants were “groping” one another, this might legally be regarded as “attempted homosexuality,” but not “homosexuality.”
At a press conference in Paris on January 30, President Paul Biya faced questions from journalists regarding the high number of arrests and prosecutions of alleged gays and lesbians in Cameroon. He responded by citing Jonas and Franky’s release as evidence of “progress,” telling journalists, “We have recently learned that people convicted of homosexuality have been released, so there is a change of mind, do not despair.”
We were therefore deeply concerned when we learned that on January 10, nearly three weeks before Biya’s comments, your office had filed a motion signaling its intention to challenge the Appeals Court decision at the Supreme Court.
We ask you to drop the motion and allow Jonas and Franky to live in peace. They are not harming anyone; they simply do not fit into typical categories of gender. Jonas and Franky are transgender – meaning that they were born with male anatomy, but they identify innately as women. Arresting and imprisoning them will not alter their sense of who they are. We see no conceivable benefit to Cameroon in continuing the persecution of these two innocent young people.
We make this request on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is commemorated around the world every May 17 in order to draw attention to the effects of homophobia and transphobia on people’s human rights, and to promote tolerance, respect, and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Cameroon has recently come under significant scrutiny for its persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. It was this scrutiny that led President Biya to cite Jonas and Franky’s release from prison as evidence of progress in attitudes concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. This scrutiny also led fifteen countries, at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cameroon earlier this month at the UN Human Rights Council, to recommend steps that Cameroon should take to improve respect for basic human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Cameroon’s delegation stated that it would carefully consider all recommendations and provide responses to the Human Rights Council in October.
By discontinuing the prosecution of Jonas and Franky, you will be upholding basic rights that are protected under Cameroon’s constitution; demonstrating to the Human Rights Council and its member states that Cameroon takes seriously its human rights obligations under international law; and avoiding the risk that the Legal Department loses credibility by pouring energy into a case that is sorely lacking in evidence.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to remaining in touch with you.
Association for the Defense of Homosexuals
Human Rights Watch
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
President Paul Biya
Prime Minister Philemon Yang
Minister of Justice Laurent Esso
M. Chemuta Divine Banda, President of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms