Useful website for LGBT Africa: http://www.mask.org.za/
2003 – Behind the Mask
To be or not to be a lesbian? The dilemma of Cameroon’s Women Soccer Players
by Sybille Nyeck
The Women’s soccer World Cup tournament has just ended with the victory of Germany over Sweden 2-1.African teams participating in this competition, Ghana and Nigeria came last in their respective group. The big surprise of the soccer World Cup version women of Africa has been the absence of Cameroon who was defeated by Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations final games.
Cameroon, as a leading country in soccer games in Africa has not yet succeeded in building the women’s version of a national winning soccer team at the international level. The following dialogue helps us to understand why.
The interviewee required anonymity we’ll call her Hoka H.
S.N.Nyeck: Hoka H. what kind of experience do you have of women’s soccer in Cameroon?
Hoka H.: I spent about 15 years as a Cameroonian’ soccer player.
S. N. Nyeck: Your country was absent from the World Cup 2003 why?
Hoka H.: We occupied the third rank in African Cup of Nations games. Only the first and the second were qualified for the World Cup finals.
S. N. Nyeck: Do you think your country had a chance to go further? If yes, why do Cameroonian women still don’t do as well as or better than men at the international level?
Hoka H.: I believe that, we first need a good organisation of our national championship. Secondly the national team needs more time to prepare (usually, time for preparation is two weeks and sometimeswithout friendly games). I want to point out that, Cameroon has no soccer-training center for women and if we look carefully how things evolve, I would say this kind of project does not yet exist in minds.However, Cameroon has talented women as men (to come at the third position is not too bad). But I would also denounce hosting states that make sure and by all means (sometimes unorthodox) that, they we’ll stay leaders in Africa.
S. N. Nyeck: What do you mean by ‘unorthodox means’?
Hoka H.: When I say ‘unorthodox’ I think of the treatment of competing teams. For instance, the nutrition of women players is not always controlled. At a technical level, the refries are chosen in a waythat obscure the results of the games. Sometimes, teams are accommodated one hour far from stadiums.
S. N. Nyeck: Could you tell us how the selection of women is made by the local clubs? What is the contract all about?
Hoka H.: The recruitment of girls is made by women players that means if in my neighbourhood I meet a girl interested in soccer, I can introduce her to the club and to the championship. The trainers proceed the same way. They sometimes go to schools and, with the help of gym teachers, will select the ‘product’. Sometimes women just come to the clubs and offer their services whenever they feel like capable of playing. Here, we have no standard method of recruitment. The contract represent not too much because clubs have meager income. Women who receive some money will usually be paid between 20.000 cfa and 100.000 cfa. They are given stipends (between 300 and 300cfa) for each training session just enough to pay for they transportation. Each signature ties the players fortwo years to her club. The contract do not specify that she’ll be giving account of her private life.
S. N. Nyeck: How about the selection for the national team?
Hoka H.: At the national level, there is a pre-selection during the championship and if Cameroon is solicited for a competition they organise for a period of two weeks, an intensive training and then,select the final team. But things are not always easy because there is a category of girls who are victims of lamentable blackmail. In Cameroon, to be suspected of being a lesbian is enough to have your place within the national team compromised (this is true not only for the national team but also in the clubs, lesbians are seriously threatened). We wonder whether homosexual life changes anything in athletic performance.
S. N. Nyeck: Are women players only suspected or are they real lesbians?
Hoka H.: Lesbians are everywhere in Cameroon. There is no specific place for them. They are in all social classes: business, trade, politics, sport, and schools–in sum everywhere. People just live their lives and feel good about who they are. They are not forcibly activists because our society is far from accepting homosexuals.
S. N. Nyeck: What do you think the discrimination of suspected lesbians do to your performance at the local and international levels?
Hoka H.: Without hesitation I say that suspected or real lesbians are victims of all sorts of discriminations. The leaders of the clubs had even decided to kick them out of the clubs or, by all means’change’ them. Women themselves do not complain about female homosexuality. Cases of violence are frequent. I would take as an example the case of the rape of two women soccer players at Mfandena in Yaoundé. I didn’t see any president of club moved by this drama. Even the managers of the clubs where they were affiliated turn a deaf ear. Neighbors didn’t move a single hand (I wonder if it was planned!). It is not rare that the managers of clubs sexually harass women. Sleeping with a manager or publicly hook up with a man is the way women avoid being victim of blackmail linked to homosexuality. I believe discriminatory policies make us loose many talents. Some women are abused either by their managers ormembers of the clubs and when they found themselves pregnant the same managers help them to have an abortion (clandestine) in fear to lose a player. On the other hand, girl are spied (after games; duringthe training; in night clubs; in school in sum everywhere). Some men are sent to date girls and in case it doesn’t work they threatened women. These threats sometimes reach relatives and family lifebecome unbearable.
S. N. Nyeck: To whom do women complain when they are mistreated?
Hoka H.: About homosexuality, they cannot complain because our legislation criminalizes it. About the abuse of authority and sexual abuses, there is no structure that prevent women soccer players from the arbitrary of her managers. It also takes a lot of courage and this is what women players lack in their relation with the managers. In December 2002, women players denounced for the first time sexual harassment; violence; discrimination and public insults from their managers via Radio Siantou. It reminds me that, when girls are no taccused of being lesbians, they are insulted of being old. This is how the national coach publicly qualified his players after they were defeated for the World cup 2003.
S. N. Nyeck: You identified women soccer players as ‘products’ to be found and to be exhibited. Can you help us to understand what you meant?
Hoka H.: I used the word ‘product’ because this is a frequent word used by the managers to designate women players. Also because some women playing soccer are in my view a creation of those in power who want to make sure that women in sport largely dominated by men are not claiming men’s prerogatives. Some people here think to play soccer one needs muscles. The feminine soccer treat women as girls who should not expose their legs to avoid being raped.Those who persist are suspected of not being normal. For me, one just needs to have a gift and necessary qualities to practice this sport and of course all this has to be supervised by a good coaching.To the contrary of Nigeria where they talk about women’s soccer, here they insist on ‘feminine soccer’.S. N. Nyeck: In this environment rigid to women’s talents in general and to lesbians in particular how can women soccer players who love other women survive?
Hoka H.: They simply invent themselves. Everyone enjoy her story of disappointments and portion of good souvenir. Here women who love women don’t call themselves lesbians. This term is not frequently used. They invent themselves by digging in native languages words that empower them for instance the word ‘mvoye’ which simply means in a local language ‘to be good’. Good in one’s brain and spirit. Good in one’s choice. These words evolve and are transmitted from generation to generation. I won’t give you more than that.
S. N. Nyeck: After you have been defeated at the African Cup of Nations the newspaper Le Messager on his publication dated on September 11, 2002 published an article on feminine soccer. We can read the following lines concerning women and homosexuality: ‘since couple of years, this ugly behavior is defiling women soccer in Cameroon […] The biggest plague in women’s soccer is without doubt homosexuality’ What is your reaction to these allegations?
Hoka H.: My opinion is that, it is unsuitable to call homosexuality an ‘ugly behavior’. It is important to know that, not all women players are lesbians even though people believe the contrary. One day, I had aconversation with somebody whose attitude surprised me. He said: ‘ I hope you too are not part of what I heard within soccer’. I questioned him about that invisible but outspoken thing he was afraid to mention. He responded: ‘It seems like all girls in soccer are lesbians’. I insist that we do play soccer with are foot not with our sex! I was among the best during my carrier.
S. N. Nyeck: The same article accused lesbians soccer players to be sex traffickers who ‘place’ their fellow players to wealthy women. Is it true?
Hoka H: I’m not aware of prostitution between women. People always want to discredit homosexuals. In our society, homosexuality is not appreciated and that leaves free ground for speculation. It is also true that newspapers facing financial crisis will write anything on that subject to sell their paper. I’m skeptical about the pseudo-declarations of lesbians in the local press.
S. N. Nyeck: Suspected or real lesbians are portrayed in the same article as rapists. Is it true that lesbians marginalize heterosexual soccer players in Cameroon?
Hoka H: Again, to see women as rapists is always to victimize them. It is inaccurate to say that lesbians marginalize heterosexual; I believe solidarity is what makes a team strong. Heterosexual women have no problem playing with lesbians. This blackmail is orchestrated by the managers and their supporters. They are afraid homosexuals will contaminate others. Lesbians here cannot rape heterosexual because they are not in power. I’ve never heard of such behaviour.
S. N. Nyeck: The same newspaper reported comments from a discipline chairperson who said they ‘are doing everything they are capable of. They sanction every time that it is proven’. What are these sanctions all about?
Hoka H: It is a very delicate situation because some managers take advantage of their ‘power’ to abuse girls. Generally they threaten to disclose her life to her family and, because homosexuality is not recognised, that will bring a scandal and usually the girl will be kicked out of the family house or abandoned without any other source of income. Some managers conscientious of that request sexualgratification from women if they have to keep their homosexual life secret.
S. N. Nyeck: Continuing with the same article, a coach declared ‘we act severely towards them when we catch them in the very act’. Do players have spy cameras in their rooms?
Hoka H: I don’t remember any person taken in the very act. Women meet with precaution, as do all homosexuals in Cameroon. But what they meant by ‘very act’ is sometimes to say ‘we saw you late at night at a suspicious place taking with a woman’.
S. N.Nyeck: Hoka H. are you a lesbian?
Hoka H.: I’m good.S. N. Nyeck: Thanks for your openness.
Hoka H.: Thanks to you too.NB
This article may not be reproduced without the prior permission of the author, who can be contacted via the Behind the Mask Office.
25 July 2005 – Afrol News
17 homosexuals face charges in Cameroon
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. By staff writer
December 1, 2005 – 365Gay.com
Seven Months Behind Bars On ‘Suspicion’ Of Being Gay
New York City – Human rights activists are demanding the immediate release of 11 men detained in a Cameroon jail for the last seven months on suspicion of “sodomy” and awaiting a government-ordered “medical examination” to determine if they are gay. They were arrested during a raid on a gay bar in the capital of Yaounde. Four other men and two women arrested at the same time have been released.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and seven other human rights organizations have signed a letter to the Minister of Justice calling for the release of the 11 men. and denouncing the medical exams that were ordered by a government prosecutor.
" These examinations have no investigative value, are abusive, intrusive, and when conducted non-consensually and under incarcerated conditions, amount to cruel and inhuman treatment; as such, they constitute a serious violation of the human rights of the detainees," the letter states. "In countries where they have been administered, these examinations have caused grave physical and psychological suffering to their victims."
If they are convicted the men face 6 months to 5 years imprisonment. Physical examinations of the anal regions of men arrested for homosexuality are common in a number of countries including Egypt, Romania and Zimbabwe. These examinations rely on the false idea that anal sex leaves lasting lesions or tears around the anus. Often involving the insertion of instruments into the anus, they are profoundly humiliating to those forced to undergo them.
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.
The demand for the prisoners’ release comes as gays come under increasing pressure in the developing world. Earlier this week the International Lesbian and Gay Association called on the United Nations to investigate reports gay men were being hanged in Iran. (story) The exiled Iranian gay rights group, Homan, claims the Iranian government has executed at least 4,000 gays since 1979.
In the United Arab Emirates more than two dozen people described by the government as gay face imposed male hormone injections "to direct the men away from homosexual behavior", five years in jail and a lashing after being arrested at what police called "a mass homosexual wedding". As 365Gay.com reported on Monday, the UAE government has denied it would force the hormone treatments. (story) The government says the treatments would be "optional" but international rights groups say that since they would mean reduced sentences there was little option involved.
5 December 2005 – Gay.Com
Human Rights Groups Protest Incarceration of Suspected Gays
Several human rights groups have sent a letter to Cameroon’s minister of justice, urging him to free 11 men jailed on "sodomy" charges and to prevent a forced medical exam to discover whether the men engaged in homosexual activity.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission joined with seven other groups, including Human Rights Watch and Doctors of the World, in asking S E Monsieur Amadou Ali to prevent the exams ordered by a government prosecutor. "These examinations have no investigative value, are abusive, intrusive, and when conducted non-consensually and under incarcerated circumstances, amount to cruel and inhuman treatment," the letter said.
The 11 men, who range in age between 17 and 35, were arrested at a nightclub and have been detained since May, according to the global gay rights group. The letter also maintains that Cameroon’s sodomy law violates protections of privacy and nondiscrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country agreed in 1984. Anal examinations of men arrested for homosexuality have been documented in such countries as Egypt, Romania and Zimbabwe as a means of "proving" homosexual conduct, the global gay rights group reports.
"The pain, humiliation and invasiveness involved in these forced examinations make them a direct violation of human rights norms," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "Cameroon is a signatory to regional and international agreements that prohibit such treatment, and we ask the government to respect its international obligations."
February 6, 2006 – BBC News
Row over Cameroon ‘gay’ witchhunt
Cameroon’s political and business elites have been rocked by a campaign by tabloid newspapers to "out" top personalities they say are homosexual. The newspaper editors say they are exposing people who engage in "deviant behaviour". Some 50 people have been named and the papers have sold out.
Homosexual acts are banned in Cameroon, with up to five years in jail. But the campaign has been condemned by the state communication council for invading people’s private lives. The council also challenged anyone who felt they had been libelled to take legal action. So far, none of those named has gone to the courts. Like much of Africa, Cameroon is a conservative society, where homosexuality is frowned upon.
We could not remain silent. We had to ring the alarm bell
Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga
But the BBC’s Randy Joe Saah in Yaounde says it is an open secret that homosexuality is alive in the country and that the law banning homosexual acts is rarely used.
The campaign has sparked a national debate about gay rights and privacy. Communications Minister Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo, who is one of those named, has threatened legal action and told Cameroon’s media they risked breaking up families, reports Reuters news agency. "Whether it is heterosexual or homosexual, sexual intercourse takes place in an intimate environment between two persons," he told media chiefs last month.
The newspapers say they are waiting to defend themselves – and have proof of their allegations. The publisher of the weekly L’Anecdote, Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga, defended headlines such as "Gays are among us" and promised more revelations to come.
"We could not remain silent. We had to ring the alarm bell. We don’t regret it and we have to do it again… in spite of numerous death threats me and my journalists have had," he told Reuters. One newspaper had to have two extra print runs and some vendors resorted to selling photocopies to satisfy demand. The newspapers also carried a vehement denunciation of homosexuality by Cameroon’s Roman Catholic bishop Victor Tonye Bakot who criticised European countries for giving it legitimacy. Last year, lobby group Human Rights Watch condemned the practice of forced anal examinations of those arrested on charges of having gay sex.
February 02, 2006 – Doug Irlenad
Newspaper Witch-Hunt Targets Suspected Homosexuals
A press witch-hunt for homosexuals, which includes publishing lists of names of scores of men and women accused of being gay, has been going on for three weeks in the Cameroun Republic, reports today Radio France Internationale.
In an article on RFI’s website, Valentin Zinga — the French public radio network’s correspondent in Cameroun’s capital, Yaoundé — relates: " For three weeks, the big cities have been living to the rhythm of ‘revelations’ on homosexuality. In the beginning, the campaign was launched by La Meteo, under the headline, ‘HOMOSEXUALITY AT THE SUMMIT OF THE STATE.’
Then it was Nouvelle Afrique’s turn to publish ‘a list of queers.’ Next, it was l’Anecdote which bannered the revelation of ‘THE TOP 50 PRESUMED HOMOSEXUALS OF CAMEROUN,’ which it followed up again in future editions with more names. Among those named as homosexual were prominent state officials and bureaucrats, business executives, and musicians — even dead people. They were only lists of names, with no established facts (at best just reprints of some allegations in articles on Free Masonry disguised as ‘investigations.’)" <My translation — D.I.>
On January 31, the RFI report continues, "Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga (left), editor-publisher of l’Anecdote, held a much-ballyhooed press conference that drew an overflow crowd. But his revelations were rather meager, except for a series of vague assertions. ‘We have the proofs for what we’ve written,’ Belinga said, adding — as a supposed ‘proof,’ that ‘the wives of these men have contacted us, but this is not the moment to go further. It’s also a question of strategy.’
The edition of l’Anecdote appearing on the day of the press conference reprinted all the previous names accused of being homosexual and added more, next to ‘letters of encouragement’ attributed to readers who didn’t bother to include their addresses, and two denials from persons named as homosexual in the witch-hunt — Gregoire Owana (right), executive minister in the office of Cameroun’s President and Secretary-General of the party in power, the RDPC [Rassemblement Democratique du peuple camerounais], and Rosine Ebassa, a radio host and musician."
RFI’s report says that, "Since December 25, the subject [of homosexuality] is on everyone’s lips not only in the large cities, but in the countryside. On that day, Monsignor Victor Tonyè Bako (left), the country’s Catholic Archbishop (some 40% of Cameroun’s people are Catholic — D.I.), spoke to a large crowd of Christmas worshipers in Yaoundé’s cathedral, Notre-dame des Victoires de Yaoundé.
Addressing his remarks to ‘Ministers, honorable deputies, parents, children, brothers in the priesthood, Christian faithful, and beloved of God,’ the Archbishop spoke gravely of ‘a social context characterized by the collapse of the great moral and family values….In the name of allocating a job, in the name of getting a promotion, in the name of getting entrance into a good school, people are trying to impose homosexuality on young people as the path to success, or as the condition of admission to certain examinations and competitions. And in certain scholastic establishments, classes are taught to children to make them accept and tolerate homosexuality.’ The Archbishop’s sermon was distributed in written form, then reprinted as a brochure and sold, becoming a best-seller.”
RFI also notes that "Cameroun’s Minister of Communication, Professor Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo (left) — one of those named as homosexual by two of the publications cited above — has gone public to insist on the imperative necessity of professionalism by journalists in treating the subject, and announced a cascade of formal complaints against the press. The aggressiveness of a number of publications on this subject, replete with their accusations without any backup, can be interpreted as settling of scores among some of the regime’s Big Fish, in an ambiance created by an expected re-shuffle of the government’s ministerial appointments — which, as always, gives the exercise the appearance of being conducted by a sea-serpent." If you can read French, the entire article can be accessed by clicking here.
It should be remembered that homosexuality is a crime in Cameroun, punishable by five years in prison — and that 9 men have been languishing in prison in the country for six months now, just for being gay. The renewed witch-hunt of the last three weeks, egged on by the country’s highest Catholic religious authority, carries with it the threat of more lives destroyed, and more imprisonments to come.
The following blog entry was posted in July 2006 regarding the newspaper witchhunt: From: Global Voices
Recently, the editor in chief of the paper La Météo was sentenced to six months in jail for having published the name of a minister in a list of presumed homosexuals. More than a dozen defamation complaints were made to Yaounde’s tribunal against papers who had published…the names of dozens of Cameroonian political, religious, artistic and sports personalities accused of homosexual “deviances”. Note that in Cameroon, sexual acts between people of the same sex are a crime punishable by six months to 5 years in jail and of a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 African Francs (30 to 300 Euros). Only, add the "most homophobic" to Cameroon.
27 February 2006 – The Post (Buea)
Court Poised to Watch Video Evidence On Homosexuality
by Kini Nsom And Chantal-Fleur Skaehr
The Yaounde Magistrate Court may watch a videocassette on the heinous act of homosexuality when the case in which two journalists were charged for defamation gathers momentum. The two publishers of Yaounde based tabloids; Amougou Belinga and Biloa Ayissi installed video equipment in court last February 21 ready to prove that the Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Relations with the National Assembly, Mr. Gregoire Owona and two other plaintiffs actually practice homosexuality as they claimed in their publications. Excitement seized the huge crowd of onlookers that stormed the court when they saw the video equipment. Many were curious to see what the videotape would unleash, but the court slipped away from the substantive matter when the defence counsels raised preliminary objections on matters of procedure.
According to the defence lawyers led by Barristers Joseph Bayiha and Paul Ndoumou, the defendants, Amougou Belinga and Biloa Ayissi had earlier dragged Mr. Gregoire Owona to court for practicing homosexuality, which is an offence contrary to section 347 of the Cameroonian penal code. They prayed the court to try Mr .Gregoire Owona before hearing the case of defamation against them. But the lawyers for the plaintiff led by Barrister Guy Noah argued that Mr. Gregoire Owona was the first person to file his case against the defendants. The State Counsel, justice Awana Elele corroborated the argument. After listening to both sides, Justice Alexandre Anaba Mbo rejected the demand of the defence and ruled that the court would continue with substantive matter the next day. But the next day on February 22, the defence emerged with an entirely new argument on procedure.
According to Barrister Paul Ndoumou, the plaintiffs did state their charges well and therefore failed to say how the newspaper articles defamed them within the ambit of the 1990 laws on mass communication. The lawyers argued that the plaintiffs summoned the defendants on a two-count charge, defamation and abuse but did not state clearly what in the publications amounted to the charges. The judge adjourned the matter to February 28 after listening to both parties. The case is part of the homosexuality saga currently rocking the country. On January 23, two French language tabloids, Anecdote and Nouvelle Afrique published a list of some prominent personalities allegedly practicing homosexuality. Mr. Gregoire Owona whose name appeared on the list was the first person to shoot the litigation salvo against the two newspapers.
The case promises to be quite stormy as the defendants claim to have iron-cast evidence to prove their claims. For two days the court session held under a very tense atmosphere as curious onlookers, including anti-gay demonstrators stormed the court premises heaping all kinds of abuses on homosexuals.
March 3, 2006 – Associated Press
Journalist sentenced over gay allegations–Case has inspired protests in nation that bans homosexuality
Yaounde, Cameroon (AP) – A court sentenced a publisher to prison for defamation Friday after his newspaper published the names of prominent alleged gays and lesbians in a case that has riveted this conservative West African nation. Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, publisher of the weekly L’Anecdote, was ordered to serve a four-month jail term and pay a fine of 1 million CFA francs (about $1,800 or 1,500 euros).
Belinga’s three-week long hearing in the capital, Yaounda, drew thousands to the streets outside the courthouse, and his and other papers allegations of homosexuality in high places had become the center of a national debate, even prompting anti-gay demonstrations.
In January, Belinga’s private, pro-government paper joined two others, Nouvelle d’Afrique and La Meteo, in publishing the names of nearly 100 prominent men and women they identified as gay and lesbian. The list included musicians, religious figures, and business and government officials, including Cabinet ministers, a former prime minister and a Catholic bishop. Among the most prominent of those named was former Prime Minister Peter Mafany Musonge, who sued Belinga and Nouvelle d’Afrique’s publisher, whose trial continues. No one has filed charges against La Meteo.
Defense lawyer Ismael Bibibano Biock said he was discussing with his client the possibility of appealing the case. Prosecuting attorney Emmanuel Mbiam welcomed the verdict, saying "this type of unprofessional journalism is condemned in Cameroon and other countries."
Homosexuality is forbidden under Cameroonian law, punishable by up to five years imprisonment or fines of up to 200,000 CFA francs ($360 or 300 euros). Belinga was also ordered to publish the verdict in his newspaper and 25 other local and international media houses, or pay another fine. The court in Yaounde was guarded by 50 paramilitary police troops, and mobs of anti-gay youths stood outside among the thousands of onlookers.
Also Friday in the southern city of Buea, security forces clashed with 200 anti-gay demonstrators, witnesses and security officials said. No injuries were reported.
24 April 2006 – PinkNews
Cameroonians acquitted over gay charges
Nine men arrested for gay acts in Cameroon have been freed, according to a gay human rights group. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) claims the men detained for homosexuality in Cameroon have been acquitted of all charges, in what is being called a major human rights victory in the country. “While nothing can return to these men the year of their lives spent locked in a cell, we are hopeful that rule of law and respect for human dignity are re-emerging as basic principles of human rights in Cameroon,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s senior coordinator for Africa.
“I’m told that the trial lasted less than ten minutes, with no witnesses being called by the prosecution. Judge Tonye, the magistrate overseeing the trial, stated that since there was no proof offered he declared the men innocent of all charges. After hearing the verdict, several of the men began to cry, knowing their ordeal was about to end.”
International and local advocacy efforts on behalf of the men were key to their survival and release. IGLHRC, alerted to the arrest of the men within days of its occurrence, arranged for a local attorney to take the case, repeatedly demanded their unconditional release to both Cameroonian and United Nations officials, and provided emergency assistance to help the men survive the harsh conditions of their detention.
“IGLHRC salutes the two lawyers representing the men, Alice Nkom and Duga Titanji, as well as the other attorneys and activists in Cameroon who worked on this case, not without risk and cost to themselves,” stated Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of IGLHRC. “IGLHRC will continue to support Cameroonians who are facing the wrath of the State because of sexual expression or identity. We are going to be working on a wide variety of cases in this country.”
The West African nation has become famous this past year for detention of its citizens on “sodomy charges,” sanctioning the expelling of young women from secondary schools for their stated sexual orientation, and for “gay baiting” high level officials and public personalities with charges of homosexuality in local papers.
IGLHRC believes that in the past year at least 30 young people, mainly girls, have been thrown out of their academic institutions on suspicion of same-sex behaviour and identity. Two men were recently arrested in an internet dating sting, but then released, and four lesbian women are reportedly in police custody.
In a communication to IGLHRC, the Minister of Justice in Cameroon, Mr. Amadou Ali, had justified the detention of the men in Yaounde as ensuring “that positive African cultural values are preserved.” According to Mr. Ali, “homosexuality is not a value accepted in the Cameroonian society.” Section 347(bis) Ordinance No 72-16 of the 28 September 1972 penal code, makes homosexuality an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. Public sentiment regarding gay and lesbian identity is harsh and most same-gender loving people live lives shrouded in secrecy and fear.
“The Cameroonian government has signed international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee all of its citizens freedom from unfair discrimination,” said Cary Alan Johnson.
“But instead of recognizing how unfair it is to detain its citizens for expressing the truth about who they are, the government is scaling-up its attacks. We hope today’s victory signals to law enforcement officials, schools, and communities that human rights must be respected and that justice will prevail.”
Due to administrative procedures, the men declared innocent today will not be released until Monday. The case garnered significant publicity in Cameroon when the detainees were paraded in front of television cameras shortly after their arrest. The men must now begin the arduous task of reintegrating into their communities, seeking employment and continuing with their lives.
4 May, 2006 – PlanetOut.com Network
Cameroon’s government is refusing to release the men from jail and now plans to retry them–Despite a court’s having acquitted nine men last month on charges of homosexuality
.On May 21, 2005, police arrested 17 men at a nightclub popular with gay men and lesbians. The 11 men who remained in detention were too poor to find a means to be released or to hire an attorney. Some were abandoned by their families due to publicity related to the case.
Shortly before the trial, set for March 17th of this year, two of the men were released, ostensibly due to lack of evidence. The prosecution presented no witnesses or evidence during the proceedings against the nine remaining men. But the judge, rather than dismissing the case, postponed the trial until April 21st.
When the court convened again last month, the prosecution again did not offer witnesses or evidence, and the judge declared the nine men not guilty. The men expected to be freed quickly, but the prosecutor’s office has refused to order their release and has said the men will be retried, according to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "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, told the rights group.
"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. 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 Cary Alan Johnson, senior coordinator for Africa at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
"We will work with Cameroonian activists to confront this brazen abuse in the courts and at the national and international diplomatic levels. I’m afraid these men have been caught up in the national mood against homosexuality," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program for Human Rights Watch.
Long said Cameroon has come under fire for several anti-gay incidents, including the expulsion of high school girls for being lesbian and the publishing of a list of high-profile citizens rumored to be gay. "There’s been a huge uproar over homosexuality this year," Long said.
According to Section 347 of Cameroon’s penal code, homosexuality is punishable by up to five years in prison. Johnson believes there is hope for the nine men. "The president of Cameroon has made public statements saying people’s privacy should be respected. So I think within Cameron’s power structure there is a commitment to the rule of law. But there’s a wrinkle – and it is with the prosecutor’s office, which fails to observe its own rules."
14 June 2006 – PinkNews
Seven gay Cameroonians who were on trial for “sodomy” have been re-jailed
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) claims seven gay Cameroonians who were on trial for “sodomy” have been jailed for 10 months. Since the men have already been detained in a Kondegui Prison in Yaoundé for more than one year, they are expected to be released shortly for time served. One of the men, Christian Angoula, suffered a homophobic attack by fellow prisoners last week and had to be carried into the courtroom. Two other men–Ayissi Francois and Lamba Marc Lambert–were acquitted of all charges.
“We can only begin to imagine the impact that unfair imprisonment and now these bogus convictions has had on these men,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s senior coordinator for Africa. “The abuse they have suffered is unacceptable.”
“One wonders on what basis the convictions were made as there was no evidence presented by the prosecution of the commission of sodomy,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director, explaining that homosexuality per se is not a crime in Cameroon and conviction on sodomy charges requires being apprehended or witnessed in the act.
“These men were railroaded and the guilty verdicts make a mockery of the Cameroonian justice system. IGLHRC salutes the lawyers and activists who stood by them. And though they may be leaving prison, they do so under a cloud and with their lives in tatters. This verdict does not bode well for freedom in Cameroon,” she said.
Two other men were convicted on sodomy charges earlier this year and sentenced to one year in prison. Four women are awaiting trial on the same charges. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has declared that sodomy laws are inconsistent with countries’ obligations to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. At its 39th Session in Banjul, Gambia last month, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also questioned the Cameroonian government about its continued detention of the men.
The West African nation has become famous this past year for detention of its citizens on “sodomy charges,” sanctioning the expelling of young women from secondary schools for their stated sexual orientation, and for “gay baiting” high level officials and public personalities with charges of homosexuality in local papers. IGLHRC believes that in the past year at least 30 young people, mainly girls, have been thrown out of their academic institutions on suspicion of same-sex behavior and identity. Two men were recently arrested in an Internet dating sting, but then released, and four lesbian women are reportedly in police custody.
In a communication to IGLHRC, the Minister of Justice in Cameroon, Amadou Ali, had justified the detention of the men in Yaoundé as ensuring “that positive African cultural values are preserved.” According to Mr Ali, “homosexuality is not a value accepted in the Cameroonian society.” Section 347(bis) Ordinance No 72-16 of the 28 September 1972 penal code, makes homosexuality an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. Public sentiment regarding gay and lesbian identity is harsh and most same-gender loving people live lives shrouded in secrecy and fear.
29 June 2006 – Cary A Johnson
Death of Alim Mongoche
IGLHRC confirrms with great sorrow the death of Alim Mongoche from AIDS-related complications.
Alim was 30 years old and worked as a clothing designer. Alim was one of the 11 Cameroonian men who spent more than a year in prison awaiting trial under Article 347 of the Cameroonian penal code which punishes sex between men. Alim and 6 other men were convicted on June 12, 2006 and sentenced to ten months in prison.
He was released for time served and was taken straight to hospital. The last year of Alim’s life was spent in the notorious Kondegui Prison in Yaounde, Cameroon where conditions are harsh and medical treatment non-existent, particularly for HIV-related illness. His last days after his release were spent in the loving embrace of fellow detainees, members of the gay and lesbian community, and his lawyer, Alice Nkom.
Go well, Alim.
Cary Alan Johnson Senior Coordinator for Africa
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights
February 2, 2007 – Global Voices Online
France-based Togolese Blogger Kangni Alem reflected on homosexuality in Africa recently. Namely, he tackled claims by some on the continent that homosexuality is a heretic religion. In the process, he mentioned recent “outings” of public figures. A debate ensued that involved Martinique’s lesbian blogger Le Blog de [Moi] who’d read an excerpt of the post on Global Voices.
Homosexuality and Religion
J’écoutais RFI (…) quand je suis tombé sur un reportage sur l’homophobie à travers le monde. Et là, de la bouche d’un militant des droits de l’homme camerounais, j’appprends que certains auraient peur, au pays de Paul Biya et de William Eteki Mboumoua, des homosexuels, parce qu’ils sont censés propager une nouvelle religion. (…) tout cela relève de suppositions liées à la superstition, à une conception désagrégée de la sexualité en Afrique, suite aux mutations et rencontres civilisationnelles, et d’un tissu d’incompréhensions tenaces.
I was listening to RFI [Radio France Internationale]
(…) when I fell on a report on homophobia across the world. And there, from the mouth of a Cameroonian human rights activist, I learn that some, in the country of Paul Biya and William Eteki Mboumoua, are afraid of homosexuals, because they are supposedly disseminating a new religion. (…) All of that comes from presumptions linked to superstition, a disaggregated conception of sexuality in Africa caused by mutations and clashing civilizations and of a fabric of stubborn ignorance.
même la métaphore biblique sur l’homosexualité n’attribue pas aux “sodomites” un quelconque prosélytisme religieux, sinon une tendance à la déparavation dont la conséquence directe a été la punition divine. Mais bon, depuis plusieurs décennies, dans les caves du Vatican, cette histoire de “punition divine” ne fait plus rire les prêtres homosexuels!
Even the biblical metaphor on homosexuality does not deem “sodomites” to be religious heretics. What it does say is that they tend towards deprevation which has divine punishment as a direct consequence. But since many decades in the Vatican’s caves, the story of “divine” punishment only has gay priests laughing!
Recent Gay Scandals in Cameroon
Il faut dire que le Cameroun tient l’actualité quant au sujet. Il y a 2 ou 3 ans, je crois, deux hommes s’étaient présentés à la mairie de Yaoundé ou Douala pour demander qu’on les unisse par les liens du mariage civil; l’affaire avait fait couler beaucoup d’encre, puisque le maire n’avait jugé bon répondre à la “provocation” qu’en faisant intervenir les policiers. Récemment encore, le directeur de publication du journal La Météo avait été condamné à six mois de prison avec sursis pour avoir publié dans ses colonnes le nom d’un ministre sur une liste d’homosexuels présumés. Dans la foulée, plus d’une dizaine de plaintes en diffamation ont été déposées devant le tribunal de Yaoundé contre des journaux qui ont publié (…) les noms de plusieurs dizaines de personnalités politiques, religieuses, artistiques ou sportives camerounaises accusées de “déviances” homosexuelles. Rappelons qu’au Cameroun, les rapports sexuels entre personnes du même sexe constituent un délit puni de six mois à cinq ans de prison et d’une amende de 20.000 à 200.000 francs CFA (30 à 300 euros). Seulement, diraient les plus homohobes!
Cameroon is at the forefront of headlines on this topic. Two to three years ago, two men showed up at Yaounde’s or Douala’s city hall, asking to be married; much ink flowed from the affair since the mayor only responded to the “provocation” by calling the police.
Recently, the editor in chief of the paper La Météo was sentenced to six months in jail for having published the name of a minister in a list of presumed homosexuals. More than a dozen defamation complaints were made to Yaounde’s tribunal against papers who had published (…) the names of dozens of Cameroonian political, religious, artistic and sports personalities accused of homosexual “deviances”. Note that in Cameroon, sexual acts between people of the same sex are a crime punishable by six months to 5 years in jail and of a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 African Francs (30 to 300 Euros). “Only,” add the most homophobic.
Homophobia and Ignorance
Evidence des temps, l’homosexualité ne peut plus être perçue comme un mythe en Afrique. même moi je l’ai cru longtemps, jusqu’au jour où je suis tombé sur l’évidence qui me pendait au nez, lorsque j’ai surpris une de mes meilleures amies, dramaturge africaine célèbre, en train de draguer ma copine de l’époque, dans un festival à Cotonou. On a beaucoup ri de l’histoire, nous sommes restés amis, et moi j’ai beaucoup découvert des stratégies des homos en Afrique pour survivre à un environnement hostile, stratégies dont je parle un peu dans mon roman Cola cola jazz, à travers le personnage de la dame Omoneh.
Sign of times, homosexuality in Africa can no longer be perceived as a myth. Even I believed it for a while until the evidence stared me in the face when one of my best [female] friends, a famous African playwright, hit on my then girlfriend at a Cotonou Festival. We laughed, stayed friends and I found out a lot about the strategies that homosexuals in Africa use to survive a hostile environment, strategies I touch upon in my novel Coca Cola Jazz through the character Omoneh.
Et si l’homophobie, au Cameroun comme ailleurs, n’était en définitive que la religion de l’inculture?
What if homophobia in Cameroon as elsewhere was just the religion of ignorance?
Thanks to GV, Martinique’s Le Blog de [Moi] Chimes in
Several of Alem’s regular readers posted responses to his post.
According to Naomi:
Tu te souviens de Mugabe, Robert Mugabe, Président du Zimbabwe? Lors de son discours d’ouverture de la foire du livre à Harare en août 1995, hors de lui, il définit les homosexuel(le)s comme « (valant) moins que les porc et les chiens ».(…) il faut y rajouter Sam Nujoma, Président de Namibie, Yahya Jammeh, président de la Gambie, déclarant gaiement ceci sur la très sérieuse chaîne BBC : « Je peux vous déclarer avec certitude qu’il n’y a pas de gays ni de lesbiennes parmi (les) animaux (de mon zoo privé). Ils se conduisent, eux, selon les lois normales de la nature. la nature, ah la nature, elle a bon dos la nature.
Do you remember Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe? During a recent speech in 1995, he defined gays as “being worth less than hogs and dogs”. (…) I have to add Sam Nujoma, President of Namibia, Yahya Jammeh, President of Gambia, declaring happily to the BBC: “There are certainly no gays and lesbians among the animals (in my private zoo). They live according to the normal laws of nature.” Nature is always used as an excuse.
Pas d’homsexualité chez les animaux? Son Excellence Monsieur le Président n’est pas friand des documentaires animaliers comme moi, il aurait vu que tout ce que nous autres humains classons dans la catégorie perversions se vit chez certains animaux selon les décrets de la nature.
No homosexuality among animals? Mister the President doesn’t watch as many documentaries on animals as I do, he would have seen that all that we humans call perversion is lived by certain animals according to nature’s decrees.
The Specialist from Le Blog de [Moi], a lesbian Martiniquan blog that recently waxed nostalgic on the travails of being closeted at work, posted the following, confirming the great connections facilitated by the Global Voices community:
J’ai eu la chance de découvrir ton blog grâce Global voices Online (…). J’ai trouvé tres interressant ton analyse sur l’homosexualité en afrique (j’avous que je ne savais rien sur le sujet). “Et si l’homophobie, au Cameroun comme ailleurs, n’était en définitive que la religion de l’inculture?”
Je pense également comme toi, la relagion également de la peur de l’autre et de la différence.
I discovered your blog through Global Voices. I found your analysis on homosexuality in Africa very interesting (I knew nothing of the topic). You say: “What if homosexuality in Cameroon as elsewhere was the religion of ignorance?” I might add also the religion of fear of the Other and of difference.
February 28, 2007 – Paula Ettelbrick
Cameroon High Court Orders Release of Man Jailed on Sodomy Charges
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Hossein Alizadeh, 212-430-6016, firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, NY – On February 17, 2007, the High Court in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde ordered the immediate release of Alexandre D., detained for more than two years without charge or trial on allegations of homosexuality. The ruling was received with relief by the Cameroonian gay and lesbian community, represented by Alternatives-Cameroun, Inter-LGBT in Paris and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) in New York. The three organizations hired human rights attorney Michel Togue to represent Alexandre in a habeas corpus hearing in which the judge ruled that the state had presented no relevant evidence.
Alexandre expressed gratitude to those who worked for his release. “I am really happy to be free and wish to thank those organizations who have been fighting for the protection of my fundamental rights,” he said upon exiting Kondegui Central Prison. Alexandre was only twenty two years old when he was arrested. He had had no legal representation or external support until his case was discovered by noted human rights attorney Alice Nkom.
“We are aware of at least one other man who is still being held in Kondegui Prison because of his sexuality,” said Charles Gueboguo of Alternatives-Cameroun. “There may be dozens of others around the country and hundreds if not more throughout Africa.” Consensual same-sex acts remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment under Article 347 of the Cameroonian Penal code, despite condemnation of such laws by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Human Rights Committee.
“Alexandre is the seventeenth Cameroonian person in the last year to have been released after spending time in jail or charged with homosexuality,” said Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Specialist for Africa at IGLHRC. “Clearly there is a continued attack on gay men and lesbians that must be brought to an end.”
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating nternational human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in San Francisco and Buenos Aires. Visit http://www.iglhrc.org for more information.
"The Mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is to secure the full enjoyment of human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression and/or HIV status.
21 August 2007 – International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Concerns Increase for Safety of LGBT in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Uganda
Nigeria, Cameroon, and Uganda Increase Arrests and Threats toward their LGBT Citizens
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is deeply alarmed by increased violence, arrests, and threats of arrest of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in three African nations. In recent weeks, 18 men have been detained in Nigeria, purportedly for cross-dressing, 6 gay men have been arrested in Cameroon on the heels of widely publicized detention and trials last year that prompted United Nations intervention, and Ugandan government officials have joined homophobic religious institutions by calling for the arrests of LGBT activists.
"In each of these countries, LGBT people are challenging the wall of silence around homosexuality and gender identity," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC Executive Director."And in each country the government has responded with attempts to snuff out their peaceful pleas to be heard."
Teargas had to be used this morning to disperse an angry crowd intent on meting out mob justice against 18 gay men who were arrested in Bauchi State on Sunday, August 5.Bauchi is in Northern Nigeria and is governed by Sharia (Islamic law). The men, all whom are in their twenties, have been charged with "vagrancy," under Article 372 Sec 2(E) of the Bauchi State Islamic code which prohibits cross-dressing and the practice of sodomy. If convicted, the men face a one-year prison sentence and twenty lashes. The men were not wearing women’s clothes at the time of their arrest, according to Joseph Akoro, director of the Independent Project (TIP), a Nigerian LGBT organization.
"This leads us to believe that the charges have been drummed up to incite hatred against gay people in the highly charged environment of our country," said Akoro. The men were guests at a straight wedding party held at Benko Hotel, in Yelwa area of Bauchi. A number of other people were originally detained at the party by the police and by the Hisbah, an Islamic anti-vice squad that works hand-in-hand with the police, but all the women and non-Muslims were all released.
According to IGLHRC’s Research and Policy Associate for West Africa, Joel Nana, who attended the hearing this morning before Alkali (Judge) Malam Kanimi Aboubacar in the Tunda Al Khali Area court, the behavior of the crowd was shocking. "Both the prisoners and their lawyers were dehumanized and attacked by the crowd," said Nana. "It seemed as if these men had already been tried and convicted."
In neighboring Cameroon, despite a 2006 judgment from the United Nations and expressions of concern from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the government continues to arrest gay men. Six men were jailed last week after a young man who had been arrested on theft charges was coerced by police into naming homosexual friends. "The tactics of the Cameroonian government define the term ‘witch hunt,’" said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Senior Program Officer for Africa. "Imagine being forced to denounce your friends. Imagine finding yourself in prison because your name is on a list."
More than 20 people have been detained in the past two years in Cameroon under Article 347 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual same-sex acts between men, a many have been subjected to trials that have proven to be unfair by international standards. In response to the lengthy imprisonment of 11 men in Yaoundé in 2006, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the arrest of consensual same-sex practicing adults to be arbitrary, and called upon the government to amend Article 347 and "adapt it to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
In a letter to the Cameroonian Minister of Justice, Steave Neamande, director of Alternatives-Cameroun, a local LGBT organization, expressed horror at the continued pattern of arrest of gay men in his country, noting that, "hardly a month goes by without reports of the arrests of people because of their sexuality."
IGLHRC is concerned for the safety of leaders and supporters of the LGBT community in the East African nation of Uganda, after senior officials went on the public and private radio stations to call for the arrest of leaders of the country’s LGBT movement this morning. Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhinde and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Butoro, were showing their solidarity with a coalition of conservative Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Bahai congregations-the Interfaith Coalition Against Homosexuality-that has called for the arrest, deportation, and even murder of gays and lesbians..
LGBT leaders in Uganda, working under the banner of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) last week launched the "Let Us Live in Peace Campaign," asking for greater attention to the HIV/AIDS-related needs of LGBT Ugandans and thanking the Ugandan police for helping to reduce anti-LGBT violence. With today’s pronouncements by the government, many LGBT are now in fear of their lives again and have gone into hiding. According to SMUG spokesperson Victor Mukasa, "the goal of the campaign is to reach out to all Ugandans so that people realise we are not something imported from the West. We are the homosexual and transgender children of God. All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace."
For further information please contact:
Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Africa Specialist,
New York, 1.212.430.6053
August has proven to be a perilous months for gays in Nigeria and Cameroon, where large-scale arrests have taken place, and in Uganda, where gay activists have gone into hiding after government ministers this week called for their arrest.
First, in Nigeria:
An anti-gay riot occurred this August 21, after 18 young men appeared in an Islamic court in the sharia state of Bauchi to face charges of cross-dressing in women’s clothes.
"Any male person who dresses in the fashion of a woman in a public place will be liable to a prison term of one year or 30 lashes," Muhamad Muhamad Bununu, head of the Hisbah — an Islamic vice squad that works with the police and patrols neighborhoods to enforce the strict observance of conservative Islamic morals and dress codes — told Agence France-Presse. Bauchi is one of a dozen Muslim-dominated states in northern Nigeria that has adopted Islamic sharia law, including criminal law, since 2000, following the end of the military dictatorship in the country of 140 million people. The decision by these states to adopt sharia law "alienated sizable Christian minorities and sparked bouts of sectarian violence that killed thousands," AFP noted in its Tuesday dispatch. The accused youths, 18 to 22, had originally been arrested on August 4 in a police raid on a wedding party at the Benko Hotel in the Yelwa area of Bauchi, at which the police scooped up 45 people, including women and children — but many of them escaped.
The official Nigerian News Agency initially reported that "the police First Information Report (FIR) described the 18 youths as ‘dressed in women’s fashion practicing sodomy as their profession,’" as the Nigerian daily This Day reported, claiming the accused had gathered at the hotel to celebrate a "gay marriage." The accused "were addressing each other as women and dressing as women," Bununu told Reuters. Most Nigerian media, which are overwhelmingly homophobic, followed the government news agency’s line, and said the young men had been arrested at a "gay wedding" for "sodomy," a crime punishable by stoning to death under the sharia law in force in the dozen Nigerian states which have adopted it. Some Western news agencies, like the Associated Press, also initially said that the 18 had been arrested for "sodomy." But by the time the case got to court this Tuesday, the charges had been reduced, and the 18 were formally indicted "under the idle persons and vagabonds section of sharia law," which also forbids cross-dressing, the Hisbah’s Bununu told Agence France-Presse.
Sharia law requires four witnesses to an act of anal penetration for conviction, so Bununu explained to the French news agency, "For now we can’t charge the men with sodomy because we have to have witnesses to testify." The police brought handbags and suitcases containing women’s high-heel shoes and clothing to this Tuesday’s court hearing as evidence. But Joseph Akoro, director of The Independent Project (TIP), a Nigerian LGBT group, told a representative of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) who was on the scene in Bauchi for the court hearing that the young men were not wearing women’s clothing at the time of their arrest. Moreover, Akoro said, the marriage being celebrated at the hotel was a heterosexual one. "This leads us to believe that the charges have been drummed up to incite hatred against gay people in the highly charged environment of our country," Akoro added, referring to Nigeria’s extraordinarily conservative culture in which both Christians and Muslims revile homosexuality as a taboo, and in which draconian anti-gay legislation had been considered earlier this year by the parliament.
That broad-reaching legislation, which was promoted by its supporters as a ban on gay marriage, was denounced in a May 8 New York Times editorial as "in fact an assault on basic rights of association, assembly, and expression" which would have criminalized and provided stiff prison terms for any association or socializing by gays, any speech or writing about homosexuality that did not condemn it, and any advocacy of human rights for LGBT people. The Times editorial called the bill "poisonous." But Nigerian media hysteria around the Bauchi 18, whose trial, the BBC’s correspondent in that state this week said, has become "a celebrity case," may be the signal that the new government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was elected the country’s head of state in April, intends to revive the anti-gay bill and its omnibus repressions.
That’s the view of IGLHRC’s senior African specialist, Cary Alan Johnson, who told me: "We’d hoped that the bill was dead, and that the government realized that international opinion was mobilized against it. The proposed anti-gay law had been condemned by the European Union, the Italian parliament, four rapporteurs of the United Nations, and even by the U.S. State Department." "Now," Johnson continued, "My fear is that these arrests and the way they are being framed by the Nigerian media— as ‘sodomy’ that occurred at a ‘gay wedding’ at the hotel when neither happened — is being used to prepare the field for the re-introduction of the bill." Asked by this reporter who he thought had informed the police of the presence of so many young gays at the heterosexual wedding, Johnson said it was "probably the Hisbah, which is similar to the vigilante groups in Iran" that target gay people.
At the end of the court hearing this Tuesday, five of the 18 accused were freed after each paying bail of 20,000 Naira (roughly $158). The 13 others who could not make bail were returned to prison. As the five who’d been freed on bail left the courthouse, trying to hide their faces to avoid being recognized or photographed, they were violently attacked by a stone-throwing crowd of mostly young protestors hollering anti-gay epithets. Some of the stones hit not only police but some of the many Nigerian and foreign journalists who’d come to Bauchi for the court hearing. Police had to fire teargas and shots in the air to disperse the angry crowd.
Joel Nana, IGLHRC’s research and policy associate for West Africa — who’d been sent to Bauchi to observe the court proceeding — said the behavior of the crowd was "shocking." Nana, 25, who was a co-founder of the Cameroon LGBT rights group Alternatives Cameroon before going to work for IGLHRC, said, "Both the prisoners and their lawyers were dehumanized and attacked by the crowd — it seemed as if these men had already been tried and convicted." The next court appearance in the prosecution of the Bauchi 18 has been postponed until September 13 "to give the new prosecutor time to familiarize himself with the case," several Nigerian media reported. The Bauchi 18 are being represented by two lawyers from Nigeria’s Legal Reform and Assistance Project, a non-gay human rights group which had been contacted by IGLHRC.
"It’s one of the positive developments that we’ve been able to develop straight allies in Nigeria who recognize that LGBT rights are an integral part of the human rights fight," IGLHRC’s Johnson told me. But the Nigerian daily This Day reported that one of the defense lawyers, Barrister Ralph Moye, had to ask for an interpreter, as the court proceedings were conducted in Hausa, and he is non-Hausa speaking. English is Nigeria’s official language, but nine major dialects, including Hausa, are widely spoken in different areas of the country.
In Cameroon, six teenagers have been jailed without trial since July 30 on charges of homosexuality following police use of torture to make other youths "name names" of their gay friends in Douala, the country’s largest city with a population estimated at more than 2 million. In Cameroon, homosexuality is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Three adolescents had been taken to the police commissariat in Douala’s Bonassama district because they had allegedly stolen something from the house of the parents of one of them. But while the young trio was at the commissariat, one of them received a text message on his cell phone that police said indicated he was involved in a homosexual relationship, according to a report prepared by Sebastien Mandeng, human rights coordinator for Alternatives Cameroon, the group IGLHRC’s Nana had founded. "The police, who used a mixture of coercion, torture, and promises of liberty, forced the adolescents to admit their homosexuality and sign a transcript of that admission— but also to reveal the identity of the six other gay teenagers, who were then arrested," said Mandeng’s report. "The police ambushed those who‘d been named — they called the six boys and got them to come to a rendezvous, and when they showed up they were arrested."
Activist Mandeng said that the police refused to give him any information when he showed up at the commissariat to inquire about the arrested youths and sought to meet with them, but he managed to speak to them from outside the jail through a window of the cell where they were being held, thus learning their identities and what had happened to them. After being held for 10 days in the Bonassama commissariat — more then the three days of detention allowed by law if no indictment has come down – the six teenagers were transferred to Douala’s New Bell Prison, where they are still being held, without trial and without being afforded legal counsel. Commenting on the imprisoned, teenaged Douala 6, IGLHRC’s Johnson said, "The tactics of the Cameroonian government define the term ‘witch hunt.’ Imagine being forced to denounce your friends. Imagine finding yourself in prison because your name is on a list." In a letter to Cameroon’s minister of Justice, Alternatives Cameroon’s Steave Neamande denounced the continued pattern of arrests of gay men in his country, noting, "Hardly a month goes by without reports of the arrests of people because of their sexuality." (For extensive background on the dire situation facing LGBTs in Cameroon and interviews with leading activists, see this reporter’s November 2-8, 2006 Gay City News article, "U.N. Condemns Cameroon Jailings,")
In Uganda, most of that nation’s small group of LGBT activists went into hiding this week following calls for their arrest by Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhinde and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Butoro. Speaking on the Radio One public radio and other private radio stations, the two high government officials, in demanding that the activists be jailed, demonstrated their solidarity with a church-led anti-gay rally Aug. 21, which Butoro attended. Held at a Kampala rugby field, the rally was organized by the Interfaith Coalition Against Homosexuality, an alliance of Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i congregations. At the rally, which drew several hundred people, the anti-gay protesters carried dozens of placards ranging from "Arrest all homos" to "God loves homos, he hates homosexuality," Reuters reported.
Other placards called for the firing and deportation of Katherine Roubos, a 22-year-old U.S. intern at the local independent newspaper Daily Monitor, for reporting on the experiences of gays in Uganda. "Aga Khan, fire Katherine Roubos, homo propagandist," one said, while another read: "Government deport Roubos." The Daily Monitor is part of the regional Nation Media Group partly owned by the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of more than 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims worldwide. He is visiting Uganda, which is a predominately Christian country with a Muslim minority. The anti-gay rally was designed as a response to the launch of a pro-gay media campaign at an August 17 press conference, the first-ever held by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a coalition of four LGBT groups headed for the last several years by Victor Juliet Mukasa, a transgendered lesbian and one of the few LGBT activists willing to speak in public. A number of the seven panelists at the SMUG press conference wore elaborate masks to conceal their identities (right, a masked panelist at the SMUG press conference in Kampala)
Mukasa was forced to flee into exile in South Africa in fear of her life after police raided her home two years ago, seized SMUG materials, and forced a friend to strip to prove she was really a woman. Mukasa has now returned to Uganda to pursue a civil lawsuit against the nation’s attorney general who authorized the raid on her home. (For background, see this reporter’s September 14-20, 2006 Gay City News article, "Uganda Witch Hunt Escalates.") Roubros’ Daily Monitor article on the SMUG press conference reported that participants said "police have repeatedly demanded sexual favors or personal bribes in exchange for release from custody. ‘This is not protecting Ugandans, said a man wearing a mask and a name card with the alias ‘Douglas.’ ‘This is not protecting Ugandans, it is threatening people for profit. This is certainly not within the law,’ exclaimed Douglas."
Roubos, a Stanford University student, denied campaigning for gays, saying she was simply doing her work. "I was assigned a story by the editor and I did it objectively. My job is to report on events, not my personal opinions," she told Reuters. Uganda’s laws prescribe prison terms for consensual homosexuality ranging from five years to life imprisonment.
December 10, 2007 – International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Activists Protest Continued Arrests of Gay Men in Cameroon: Demonstrations in Paris, Pretoria and Washington, D.C.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC Communications Coordinator, 212-430-6016
Human rights activists in France, South Africa and the United States descended on Cameroonian embassies in these three countries today to express their anger at a pattern of arrests and harassment of gay men and lesbians in that country. More than 30 people have been arrested in Cameroon in the last two years on charges of homosexuality, despite an October 2006 ruling by the United Nations that termed such arrests to be arbitrary and unfair. Dozens of students, particularly girls and young women, have been expelled from schools as result of their real or perceived sexual orientation.
A photo from today’s protest in front of the Cameroon High Commission in South Africa
"Challenging the legal system that continues to criminalize homosexuality must be a top priority for all human rights organizations," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). "We hope these actions will draw attention to the blatant abuse that occurs not only in Cameroon but in countries all over the world."
In France, LGBT groups led by Les Pantheres Roses stood in solidarity with Alternatives-Cameroun, a Cameroonian LGBT rights group, in front of the Parvis des Droits de l’Homme in Paris, to protest the human rights violations. They also delivered a letter of concern to the Ambassador of the Republic of Cameroon. In Washington, D.C., Amnesty International and Liberation for All Africans, an African LGBT Diaspora group, also delivered a letter of protest to the Cameroonian diplomatic representation. And in Pretoria, IGLHRC led more than 100 protesters in a demonstration outside the Cameroon High Commission.
In May 2005, 17 men and women were arrested at an open-air bistro in Yaounde. Eleven of them spent more than a year at the Kondegui Central Prison before seven of them were convicted. Alternatives-Cameroun has documented the cases of more than 13 other men currently being detained in Cameroon under Article 347 bis of the penal code, which prohibits consensual same-sex relationships. On November 7, 2007, three men appeared before a Cameroonian high court facing charges of homosexuality after being detained for more than three months without bail. The men were arrested in Bonapriso, Douala, on the night of August 31, 2007, by police officers making random arrests in search of armed robbers. After being beaten at the police station, one of the men confessed to being homosexual and implicated his two colleagues.
"As soon as the shadow of homosexuality enters into a case due process goes out of the window," said IGLHRC Program Associate Joel Nana, who has been monitoring the cases.
People currently detained on grounds of homosexuality all have cases riddled with irregularities and have been subject to procedures that are inconsistent with the new Cameroonian code of penal procedure. After arrest, alleged homosexuals are detained for investigation for longer time periods that the law prescribes. If they are lucky enough to find a lawyer, then they undergo an endless number of trials.
"This is a tactic that the court frequently uses in the cases of gay men and lesbians," said Sebastien Mandeng, human rights researcher at Alternatives-Cameroon, the national LGBT organization. "They needlessly prolong the process with no legal justification in order to unofficially punish and imprison the accused."
Last year, 30 young girls aged 14 to 22 were expelled from the Eyengue Nkongo High school in Douala for being lesbians. One of the students’ parents filed a complaint against another student for misleading her child. They were arrested together with two other students and sent to the New Bell prison in Douala, where they spent more than four months in jail.
In October 2006, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that detention on the basis of sexual orientation in Cameroon constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN human rights body called on the government of Cameroon to adopt necessary measures to remedy the situation, including the possible repeal of Article 347.
The human rights groups Alternatives-Cameroun, Amnesty International, IGLHRC, Les Pantheres Rose, and OUT are calling for the repeal of Article 347, the release of all individuals detained under this law, and an end to official discrimination based on sexual orientation in Cameroon.
A photo from today’s protest in front of the Cameroon High Commission in South Africa
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in Johannesburg and Buenos Aires. Visit http://www.iglhrc.org for more information