By Akang Jerome
Human rights activists in Cameron have intensified calls for the government to decriminalize homosexuality.
The activists are pressing the Biya government to temper the country's notoriously harsh anti-gay laws.
This is more so given the fact that the Cameroon government recently introduced a bill to the National Assembly that would give formal, political backing to section 347 of the country's penal code that criminalizes consensual sex between adults of the same gender.
Cameroon is one of African countries where homosexuality is illegal and where alleged gays have been or stigmatized, persecuted and jailed.
Homosexuality is punishable under Cameroonian law by a sentence of between six months and five years.
A case in point is that of Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome who are currently serving a five year prison sentence after a judge last year found them guilty of ‘homosexual behavior’.
His decision was based on their speech, clothes and drink preferences. They reportedly consumed Baileys, an Irish whiskey and cream liqueur.
The pair was arrested in July 2011 in a car outside a nightclub in 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”.
But the two’s lawyers, including Barrister Alice Nkom insisted that 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”, Barrister Kom said.
Another glaring case of a homosexual, who has been under persecution is that of 28 years old Felix Titakang. The young man was reportedly initiated into homosexuality way back in secondary school by some senior students. Though he resisted their advances, he was finally bullied into submission.
He finally became a homosexual after obtaining his GCE Advanced Level certificate. While hawking second hand clothes, he is said to have had a male partner.
But one day while in a sexual encounter with his male partner in his father’s compound, He was reportedly caught red-handed in his father’s residence with his male-lover by a tenant. The tenant raised an alarm and a crowd gathered, threatening to burn them alive. Felix Titakang and his partner narrowly escaped being lynched .The former is said to have later fled the country for fear of his life.
Human rights group Amnesty International has severally condemned what it terms the “systematic discrimination against perceived homosexuals in the country."
It would be recalled that in December 2012, a Cameroonian appeals court refused to quash a three-year sentence against one Roger Mbede, a university student, for homosexuality. Roger was arrested after he sent a male pal a text message saying: "I'm very much in love with you."
A gay rights lobby, AllOut.org has been urging the Biya regime 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 others and suspend enforcement of Section 347a of the country’s constitution.
Another letter to Biya, endorsed by gay-friendly Cameroon attorney Alice Nkom and signed by 74,680 people, also seeks the repeal of Section 347a.
Meanwhile, international gay rights campaigner, Omar Kuddus, had instigated an online petition asking for President Paul Biya, Minister of Justice Laurent Esso, and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to intervene and free jailed homosexuals in Cameroon. The petition also demands an end to their persecution in Cameroon.
The European Union’s delegation to Cameroon sometime ago 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.”
But Cameroonian gay rights lawyer, Alice Nkom, says the anti-gay laws in Cameroon are getting worst.
“These laws are illegal – the declaration of human rights is part of our constitution – but the judges still apply them. It's very difficult to prove you have had sex. Under the procedural code you cannot be put in jail unless caught in delecto flagrante” she says.
“But they always put people accused of homosexuality in jail straight away. People are targeted because they wear makeup or look effeminate. One client was given a three-year sentence because he wrote a text message. It's a very corrupt environment and people get paid for informing on others.”
No one knows the true numbers of those detained for alleged homosexuality. Detainees are sometimes tortured in police stations until they confess, Nkom maintains; victims are beaten on the soles of their feet.
Scores of people are imprisoned every year in Cameroon under the regulations. Conditions inside prisons are miserable. The main jail in the capital, Yaounde, was built for 600 but now contains 4,000 inmates.
"Unless you buy food from the guards," Nkom says, "you starve. For those whose are homosexual their life is made worse."
Life for gay people in Cameroon became more difficult after 2005 when a Catholic Archbishop made homosexuality part of his Christmas homily, blaming it for youth unemployment. High-profile Cameroonians, he alleged, gave jobs to those who favored same-sex activities.