(Johannesburg) – Three men returning from a bar last month in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, were detained by police because two of them appeared feminine, Association pour la Défense de l’Homosexualité (ADEFHO) and Human Rights Watch said today. The three were jailed on July 25, 2011, for one week and were tortured and otherwise abused by police during this time, according to a Cameroonian civil society group that has been working on their behalf.
One man was released a week later, while the two who appeared feminine were charged with “homosexuality” under Section 347 bis of Cameroon’s penal code, which criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. They will be tried at the Court of First Instance in Ekounou, Yaoundé, today, August 18.
“Police in Cameroon are arresting people for supposedly looking homosexual, which is absurd and also violates Cameroon’s constitution as well as international law,” said Alice Nkom, Director, ADEFHO. “They are relying on a discriminatory statute to punish people simply for the way they look.”
Jonas, 19, and Franky, 20, were in the company of an older man on the night of July 25 and were returning from a bar when they were stopped by police officers of the Mobile Intervention Group of the first subdivision of Yaoundé. According to the two detainees, the police at first assumed that Jonas and Franky were women because of their feminine appearance. However, upon checking their identification documents, in which Jonas and Franky were identified as male, the police took all three to the offices of the Regional Directorate of the Judicial Police of the first subdivision of Yaoundé, where they were held until August 1.
Cameroonian law declares that a detainee may be held for only up to 48 hours before being brought before a magistrate or judge. However, all three individuals were held for seven days before being charged. During this time, Jonas and Franky refused to make a statement to the police in the absence of legal representation. Members of ADEFHO, who are representing them, informed Human Rights Watch that police personnel tortured and harassed them in custody. The third man was not harassed or beaten.
Jonas told ADEFHO that police slapped him and beat him on the soles of his feet to make him confess to being homosexual – both Jonas and Franky confessed. They also intimated that they did not receive food while in custody.
On August 1, the three individuals were taken to the Attorney of the Republic at the Court of First Instance, who issued warrants against Jonas and Franky, whose trial is scheduled to begin on August 18; the older man was released. Jonas and Franky remain in custody at the Central Prison in Kondengui, Yaoundé, awaiting trial.
In March 2011, another individual, Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, was sentenced to three years in prison because he admitted to the police that he was homosexual. In that instance, as in this more recent one, there was no evidence to prove criminal conduct. Mbede’s health has declined in prison and he is at risk of violence because of his sexual orientation. If convicted and sentenced, Jonas and Franky could be similarly vulnerable to abuse.
In 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommended that Cameroon should decriminalize consensual homosexual conduct. Cameroon’s constitution grants equal rights, freedom, and security to all persons and ensures the protection of minorities.
“Cameroon’s law criminalizing homosexual conduct is a tool of persecution that is used freely by the police and judiciary against innocent people,” said Nath. “A conviction against Jonas and Franky will send a frightening message that people in Cameroon can be tortured and jailed just because of the way they look.”