- The Cameroonian government has refused to release nine men jailed on charges of homosexuality despite their 21 April acquittal, gay activists claim. In a further travesty of justice, the government is said to be forcing the men to stand trial again. The nine men have been detained in Kondegui Prison in Yaoundé for nearly a year.
According to the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the nine men have been treated unfairly ever since they were detained. "At their initial trial, no witnesses were called and no proof offered by the prosecution," IGLHRC claims. On that basis, Judge Tonye, the magistrate overseeing the case, had declared the men innocent of all charges. Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon.
After having spent almost one year behind bars, the nine men in April had expected to be released from prison quickly. But the Yaoundé prosecutor's office has so far refused to order their release and has said that the men will be retried, IGLHRC said in a statement released today.
"You arrest people unfairly, violate their rights for almost a year, and then refuse to release them - this constitutes an abuse of power," Duga Titanji, the men's attorney in Cameroon, was quoted as saying by IGLHRC. "This development constitutes a major violation of due process. With no new arrest warrant being served, this is now a blatant case of arbitrary detention," Mr Titanji had added.
IGLHRC was alerted to the arrests of the men on 21 May 2005 at a popular Yaoundé nightclub within days of the detention and arranged for Mr Titanji to take their case. Originally, 17 men had been arrested at the nightclub in the Cameroonian capital, which is believed to be frequented by gays and lesbians.
These arrests were first reported by the local independent daily 'Mutations', and were later confirmed by the US Embassy in Cameroon. National television in Cameroon and local Channel 2 broadcasted images of the young men after their arrest. According to IGLHRC, "the 11 men who remained in detention were those too poor to find a means to be released or to hire a lawyer." Many have been abandoned by their families due to publicity related to the case as homosexuality remains taboo and stigmatising in Cameroon.
The remaining 11 men were detained in Kondegui Prison for seven months on suspicion of "sodomy" without any trial. A trial date was finally set for 17 March this year. Shortly before the trial began, two of the men were released, ostensibly due to lack of evidence. On 17 March, at the opening of the trial, the prosecution had no witnesses to present. Rather than dismissing the case, the judge postponed the trial until 21 April. On that day, a trial was convened, but the prosecution again produced no witnesses and no proof of the charges against the nine men. A verdict of not guilty was delivered by Magistrate Tonye.
Along with local and international human rights advocates, IGLHRC during the last year has repeatedly demanded the unconditional release of the nine men to both Cameroonian and UN officials, and provided emergency assistance to help the men survive in what the gay activists call "the harsh conditions of their detention."
Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Coordinator for Africa at IGLHRC, today voiced a strong protest against the double punishment of the nine men. "This is nothing more than double jeopardy. The Cameroonian government has upended the entire judicial process in this case and is showing blatant disregard for legal procedures," stated Mr Johnson. "We will work with Cameroonian activists to confront this brazen abuse in the courts and at the national and international diplomatic levels," he added.
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