A brutal attack on two transgender women in Cameroon occurred just weeks after a court ordered the women, Shakiro and Patricia, released from prison pending their appeal of a five-year sentence on arbitrary “homosexuality” charges. The attack is a stark reminder that whether or not they are behind bars, transgender people in Cameroon are not free.
Shakiro told Human Rights Watch that a violent mob attacked her and Patricia on August 8 at about 1 a.m. in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital. The attackers pulled them out of a taxi, insulted and threatened them with death, and beat them for about 30 minutes before fleeing when gendarmes intervened. A video circulated on social media captured the assault.
“I was stripped naked and hit everywhere on my body by several people,” Shakiro said. “I was kicked and slapped. I had to play dead – it was the only way to survive.”
Shakiro and Patricia have filed a police complaint against their attackers, but have little hope of obtaining justice in Cameroon, where discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is institutionalized and violence is common.
On February 8, gendarmes arrested Shakiro and Patricia in Douala for wearing women's clothing. They were charged with attempted homosexual conduct, public indecency, and non-possession of national identity cards. While detained at Douala’s overcrowded central prison, guards and other inmates beat, insulted, and threatened them.
On May 11, a court sentenced Shakiro and Patricia to five years in prison and fines of 200,000 CFA (US$370) under a draconian law that forbids same-sex relations. On July 16, a judge ordered their release until a court hears their appeal scheduled for September 14.
State-sanctioned persecution of LGBT people in Cameroon has intensified in 2021. Between February and April this year, security forces arrested at least 27 people, including a child, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity, beating and subjecting some to forced anal examinations.
LGBT activists and lawyers say that Cameroon’s legislation punishing same-sex relations contributes to a homophobic and transphobic environment in which authorities often ignore their responsibility to protect LGBT people, turning a blind eye to hateful rhetoric and violence.
The government has an obligation to protect all Cameroonians. Authorities should ensure that Shakiro and Patricia get access to justice and act swiftly to repeal the anti-homosexuality law.