Two Cameroonians, jailed for appearing gay because they drank Baileys Irish liqueur, are due to learn today (19 October) if their sentence will be reduced.
The cases and other abuses in the central African country have prompted the United States, European Union and international human rights groups to put pressure on Cameroon to stop its repression of LGBT people.
Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome are currently serving a five year prison sentence after a judge found them guilty of ‘homosexual behavior’.
His decision was based on their speech, clothes and drink preferences, reportedly their consumption of Baileys, an Irish whiskey and cream liqueur.
The pair were arrested in July 2011 in a car outside a nightclub in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé.
Speaking of their case, the United States ambassador to Cameroon, Robert P Jackson, said: ‘[Gays and lesbians] are human beings, and I refer to this issue because it is a human rights issue. Cameroon is the only CEMAC [Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa] country that outlaws homosexual acts.
‘Last year, a Cameroonian court sentenced two young men to five years in prison for “being homosexual” – even though Cameroonian law does not say that homosexuality is illegal. The court relied on subjective assumptions that would not pass as evidence in most courts of law. They were found guilty not because of what they did, but because of how they dressed.’
Co-founder of gay digital action group AllOut.org, Andre Banks, said: ‘The judge gave the highest possible sentence to Francky and Jonas because their vocabulary was “feminine”, because they drank a beverage that’s perceived to be something gay men drink, and because the clothes they were wearing were not “masculine” enough.’
It has brought more attention Section 347a of the Criminal Procedure Code in Cameroon. Under this same-sex relations are punishable by up to five years in prison.
An open letter to the government states 347a conflicts with international human rights treaties that Cameroon has signed and supposedly supersede it.
AllOut.org is urging Cameroon’s President Biya and Minister of Justice Laurent Esso to free those imprisoned under the country’s homophobic laws and more than 100,000 people have signed the campaign group’s petition to overturn the conviction of Mbede and suspend enforcement of Section 347a
A second letter to Biya, endorsed by gay-friendly Cameroon attorney Alice Nkom and signed by 74,680 people, also seeks the repeal of Section 347a.
International gay rights campaigner Omar Kuddus had already instigated an online petition asking for the President Paul Biya, Minister of Justice Laurent Esso and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene and free Djome and Kumie. The petition also demands an end to LGBT persecution in Cameroon.
The European Union’s delegation to Cameroon has said: ‘The Delegation of the European Union to Cameroon is fully engaged in favor of the full respect of human rights in Cameroon, among others the decriminalization of homosexuality.’
Banks states: ‘The statements by the US ambassador and the delegation from the European Union in Cameroon send a direct message to President Biya and other Cameroonian officials who support the on-going persecution of people who seem “too gay”.
‘This week, Cameroon has an opportunity to affirm its commitment to human rights by speaking out against discriminatory, anti-gay laws and finally freeing Francky and Jonas.’
In another case, a young man, Jean Claude Roger Mbede, was sentenced for having sent a sexually suggestive text message. In September it was reported by GSN that his three-year prison sentence for homosexuality remains on hold, and he is currently out on bail while he awaits his appeal on 19 November.
Despite this persecution, the UK Border Agency still deports LGBT asylum seekers back to Cameroon, assuming it’s a safe place to be gay – including a lesbian recently deported from Britain in a case highlighted by GSN.