- A group of 15 men, allegedly gay, and two alleged lesbians has been held detained at a police station in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, for over one month. Being arrested in a bar known to be frequented by homosexuals, the 17 are to be sent to court tomorrow. If found guilty of homosexual activities, they could face up to five years' imprisonment.
According to the Cameroonian press and pro-gay organisations, gendarmes from the Nlongka Brigade on 21 arrested 15 men at a Yaoundé night club known to be frequented by gay men. Two young women, allegedly a lesbian couple, had been arrested several days earlier - an incident which according to the Cameroonian newspaper 'Mutations' led to the police action against the night club.
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the 17 alleged homosexuals had been detained as part of a police crack-down on homosexuality. "The 17 have been charged with sodomy and all or part of the group remain in detention at Kondengui Central Prison," IGLHRC reports. 'Mutations' in its edition of today added that the group will be taken to court tomorrow.
The newspaper had spoken to some of the detained this weekend, several of which openly stated that they were homosexuals. Others denied the accusations, claiming they had been forced into a homosexual relationship. The journalist especially referred to diverging statements from the alleged lesbian couple.
Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Cameroon, according to national laws, but this legislation inherited from French colonial rule barely has been effective in the country. According to Cameroon's sodomy law, both same-sex male and female sexual contact is illegal.
The Cameroonian Penal Code criminalises sexual contacts with members of the same sex with a penalty of 6 months to 5 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to CFA 200,000. If one of the persons involved is under the age of 21 the penalty is doubled, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).
IGLHRC last week said it was "concerned" about the fate of the arrested. The rights group, working with a coalition of human rights activists in Africa, had already petitioned the government of Cameroon for the immediate release of the detainees with regard to the sodomy charges. IGLHRC holds that Cameroon's sodomy legislation contradicts international conventions signed by Cameroon that guarantee all citizens freedom from discrimination, the right to privacy and the right to freedom of association and assembly.
Also in Cameroon, several individuals have fought for the release of the 17 alleged homosexuals. A Paris-based gay Cameroonian singer on tour in Yaoundé last week reportedly organised protests in front of the police station, threatening to name and shame closeted gay Cameroonian politicians and businessmen. The gay artist, know only as Ayissi, allegedly had achieved the release of some few persons, although this is not confirmed.
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