Human Rights activists who want to protect the rights of the LGBT community are incessantly calling upon the leaders of Cameroon to reconsider the conviction of Roger Jean-Claude Mbede.According to these activists a term in prison is nothing short of torture for an inmate who is assumed to have same sex preferences and can even pose a serious threat to their lives. Cameroon’s lawmakers, judges, and the top officials of the government are just stating the prejudice that they have against homosexuals to ignore laws they have promised to adhere to.
Roger Jean-Claude Mbede was sentenced to three years imprisonment after he was proven to have homosexual tendencies. This verdict is a cruel violation of Mbede’s rights to ‘freedom of expression and equality ‘ that is part of his fundamental rights according to the Cameroonian constitution, Alternatives-Cameroun, Association pour la Defense de l’Homosexualitè (ADEFHO), and Human Rights Watch pointed out in a letter that they sent across to Cameroon’s top leaders.
Under section 347 bis, a person who practices “sexual relations with a person of the same sex” can be served a prison sentence of up to five years. Mbede was issued the sentence after he accepted that he had homosexual preferences while he was held under detention in prison. However, the law strongly contradicts international human rights treaties, which, the Cameroonian constitution states, are directly applicable to the country.
“This law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct and violates the fundamental rights to privacy, equality, and freedom of expression of all Cameroonians,” said Alice Nkom of ADEFHO. “The fear and stigma attached to homosexuality is such that the police use the mere existence of the law to trap individuals with impunity. And courts convict those accused even in the absence of evidence.”
In their letter, ADEFHO, Alternatives-Cameroun, and Human Rights Watch forces Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Hon. Amadou Ali to put forth an amendment of the law that criminalizes ‘consensual sexual conduct’ and to reconsider the verdict that has been issued in this case, and ecoked on the General Delegate of Security Martin Mbarga Nguélé and the Secretary of State for Defence Jean Baptiste Bokam to put a full stop to all arrests under section 347 bis of the Cameroonian penal code.
Mbede had dispatched a text message to one of his friends planning to meet him on March 2, 2011. When he came for the meeting he was shocked to find that his friend had been arrested by the police and they also took him into custody. The police questioned Mbede who accepted that he had same sex orientation. Cameroonian law mandates that a person cannot be held in detention for more than 48 hours if they are not charged against a specific offence. Mbede was however detained at the Gendarmerie du SED Yaoundé for seven days before he was charged any offence following which he was moved to the Yaoundé Central Prison.
Mbede was presented thrice at the Court of First Instance in Yaoundé and on April 28, he was declared guilty and given a prison sentence of three years. Mbede is presently serving his term at Yaoundé Central Prison. Cameroonian activists allege that Mbede may not be safe physically in jail because of his same sex preferences.
“The Cameroonian criminal justice system is failing to uphold basic rights,” Yves Yomb of Alternatives-Cameroun. “In other cases, an accusation from a third party suffices as ‘evidence.’ The existence of this law and its use with such impunity makes a mockery of civil liberties in the country.”
In 2010, four human rights organizations, including ADEFHO, Alternatives-Cameroun, and Human Rights Watch, jointly published a report with solid evidence on violations of fundamental rights that lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people in Cameroon had to face in their daily lives. The report showcases compulsory arrests, disregard for processes to be followed in such arrests, and sentencing without adequate proof under section 347 bis. The report also indicates torture that follows the arrests, both pre-trial and in jail, by police and jail officials, including physical, mental, sexual and verbal abuse. They even have revealed written complaints that have been provided by prisoners about exploitation from guards that the authorities have chosen to ignore.
Prison authorities often share with other inmates’ classified information about the sexual orientation of individuals who have been sentenced under section 347 bis. This exposes them to regular threats, sexual violence, and verbal abuse. The report documents cases in which inmates with homosexual preferences have been physically abused as well as sexually harassed by other inmates, with prison personnel refusing to protect them and in fact promoting such torture.
Prison authorities refuse to sensitize prisoners about the importance of practicing safe sex in prison and ignore the fact that sex is common in prison be it forced or voluntary. Though the government has promised to include men and women with same sex preferences in Cameroon’s HIV and AIDS national strategy, prisoners hardly have access to that kind of medical care or attention and many times treatment is delayed in spite of the fact that they pose a high risk category of HIV transmission. “A prison term can be life-threatening for inmates, particularly those who are presumed to be homosexual,” said Dipika Nath of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Cameroon’s police, judges, and other government officials are allowing their prejudices against lesbians and gay men to override legal standards they have sworn to uphold.”Pin It