The editor and director of a Cameroonian tabloid which published articles in June, 2012 alleging ‘homosexual mafia’ within the highest echelons of the state, has appeared in court for a hearing in which he is accused of defamation.
In June, L'Anecdote, a tabloid owned by local media mogul Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga published a series of articles accusing prominent individuals of being part of a gay network.
The alleged homosexual network was said to have been headed by the former secretary of state of Cameroon, and includes politicians, government ministers, university professors, prominent economists, public servants and other notable individuals.
The widely read tabloid alleged these men demanded sexual favours from other men in return for string-pulling.
The tabloid was sold out within hours and caused a moral panic against LGBT people in the country.
One prominent professor former diplomat, Jean Emmanuel Pondi, was alleged by the paper to have helped his male university students in return for sexual favours.
Pondi, who is also the secretary general of Cameroon’s most prestigious university Yaoundé I, is now suing Belinga for ‘defamation’.
Appearing on Wednesday (3 October) at the correctional court of first instance of Ekounou, Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, he complained that the paper’s allegations amount to ‘insults, defamation, contempt and corporate blackmail.
‘They [the journalists of L'Anecdote] have no evidence because the evidence does not exist.
‘The entire diplomatic training that I had provided between 1994 and 2005 [as head of the International Relations Institute of Cameroon, where many of the state’s diplomats are trained] was defamed.’
The trial was adjourned to October 16 at the request of the Belinga’s lawyers.
L'Anecdote had previously instigated a moral panic and witch-hunt against gay people when it published in 2005 a list of 50 prominent ‘homosexuals of the republic’.
The list of the tabloid was similarly popular with vendors resorting to selling photocopies as the paper sold out.
Those named included government ministers, news readers, popular singers and sports stars.
Belinga was then convicted of defamation, fined and sentenced to four months in prison which he never completed.
His tabloid remains one the most popular papers in the country.
Many Cameroon commentators believe that Belinga, who is likened to a Cameroonian version of the media mogul Murdoch, to have wide political aspirations.
In the 2005 Belinga defended his actions by stating: ‘Men making love to other men ... is filthy. It may be normal in the West, but in Africa and Cameroon in particular, it is unthinkable’.
There are no official association to help LGBT people in Cameroon, which has one of Africa’s most severe anti-gay laws.
Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender carries huge risks in Cameroon; same-sex sexual acts are illegal under section 347 of the penal code with a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 Cameroon Francs (about €300 $375). If the offender is under the age of 21 a more severe punishment is likely.
In 2010 four non-governmental organizations published a detailed report outlining the legal and social dangers that LGBT people face in Cameroon, including arrest, rape, loss of their children, social stigma and discrimination based on both sexuality and HIV status.
The report and the level of homophobic campaigns launched by the church and media indicate that Cameroon is one of the most hostile countries in Africa for LGBT people.