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Monday, 10 October 2011

Does the world care about gays in Cameroon?

Me Alice NkomN'Kom image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

Two men arrested in August in Cameroon for looking effeminate and who reportedly "confessed" to homosexuality after being tortured are being defended today 10 October in court by the legendary Cameroonian LGBT human rights defender Alice N'Kom.

This morning she sent out a message:
"I'm about to walk into a courtroom in downtown Yaoundé to defend Jonas, 19 and Franky, 20 - two Cameroonian boys arrested last July for the "crime" of being gay."
"It's going to be a tough one, but I've never felt so strong: I know I have your support and 55,000 people behind me."
N'Kom is referring to a petition by allout.org. A third man was arrested with Jonas and Franky but bailed, according to the Cameroon LGBT group Association for Defense of Homosexuality (ADEFHO), "thanks largely to his money". N'Kom continues:
"Your efforts are having an immediate impact. My cell phone has been ringing non-stop with everyone from diplomats to human rights organizations and high profile media telling me that they are now paying attention to the crisis here. Also, I just heard that today's case is being closely monitored at the highest levels of our government. The Ministry of Justice knows the world is watching and that Cameroon's reputation is at stake."
"This is really positive - but many of the people arrested because they are gay are still in jail, and the violence is ongoing. We need to show the authorities that we will not stop until everyone is released, and until homosexuality is no longer criminalized under Cameroon's laws."
At least ten men have been arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality in Cameroon so far this year. Roger Jean Claude Mbede is one imprisoned in Yaoundé Central Prison (Kondengui) for homosexuality. According to Alternatives-Cameroun he is suffering in a state of deplorable health and lack of food with his left eye without treatment or medications.
"He told us he slept on the ground since his imprisonment, and is abandoned by most of his family members who regard  him as a wizard," they said.
Amnesty International is running an international campaign demanding Mbede's release.

A proposed revision to Cameroon's criminal code will equate homosexuality with pedophilia, according to activists.

Two new by-laws punish homosexual acts on minors between 16 and 21 years of age to eight years in jail with 10-15 year terms available for acts committed on minors younger than 16, activist Stéphane Koche told AFP.

Although 55,000 is a lot the number pales in comparison to other international petitions. So N'Kom is asking for further support and to push the petition numbers over 100,000. Supporters can send a message via Facebook or Twitter. Another option is to tweet to President Biya's account.

Cameroon is a member of the Commonwealth, one of only two non-former British colonies to join.

There is a major campaign to get the issue of homosexuality and HIV/Aids onto the agenda of the Commonwealth leaders summit in Perth, Australia, from 28-30 October. Laws like Cameroon's stop people who are at greater risk of HIV from accessing key prevention services and life-saving treatment services. As a result more people are infected and ultimately more people will die.


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