Homophobia: Being gay is illegal in Cameroon

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Homophobic laws are spreading on the African continent. In Nigeria and Uganda, homosexuality is severely punished. But it’s Cameroon that has the highest number of gay people behind bars. Our reporters Marc Perelman and Johan Bodin went to the capital Yaoundé to find out more.

In Cameroon, being gay is a crime, punishable by five years in prison. On January 10, Jean-Claude Roger Mbede died in his native village after a long illness. He was a well-known homosexual and was out on bail after spending more than a year behind bars. One of his lawyers, Saskia Ditisheim, says that his family “denied him treatment because of his sexual orientation and left him to die to get rid of the shame cast on the clan”. This death has further unsettled the gay community, already traumatised by the murder of Eric Lembembe six months ago. Lembembe, a gay rights activist, died at his home under suspicious circumstances.

According to Human Rights Watch, Cameroon is the African country that imprisons the highest number of gay people. “It is state-sanctioned homophobia”, says Alice Nkom, one of the few lawyers who defends homosexuals.

“Unfounded accusations!” retorts Cameroon’s Minister of Communication. Issa Bakary Tchiroma insists that “homosexuals are protected and the government refuses to let them be attacked”.

However, the eyewitness accounts we gathered tell a very different story.

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