With support from Lawyers Without Borders, two young Cameroonian men appeared in court in Yaoundé on July 20, seeking to overturn their five-year prison sentence for homosexuality, imposed in November 2011.
In addition to the five-year prison term — the maximum allowed under Cameroonian law — they were each fined 200,000 CFA francs, or about 300 euros.
The appeals court has not yet ruled on their request for release.
“I came to Yaoundé to ensure a fair trial for Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome,” said Saskia Ditisheim, president of Lawyers Without Borders Switzerland (ASF), which she said will send a lawyer to each trial for the crime of homosexuality in Cameroon in partnership with the local Association of Defense of Homosexuals, or ADEFHO, led by human rights attorney Alice Nkom.
In Cameroon, she said, “the social climate is increasingly dangerous for homosexuals, with numerous arrests and prosecutions.”
At the July 20 appeal hearing, the judges were respectful, but spectators were not.
“I was amazed at the attitude of the judges,” Ditisheim said. “Contrary to what I expected, they listened to me and even took notes. I remain confident for the future.”
When the two men arrived, their rather feminine appearance caused a stir. Some in the audience were angry, some were shocked, others burst out laughing. Many taunted them with homophobic abuse.
It’s already past noon, when the judges finally arrive. The hearing can begin.
Today Ditisheim represents them alongside Alice Nkom et Michel Togué, seeking provisional release for Jonas and Franky with two guarantors, Marc Lambert and Valere, who will represent them at future hearings.
“Before throwing jokes at these young people for being effeminate, remember that they have families like everyone here,” argues Nkom. “In this case, there is no complaint and no victim. Why are they not set free? Because they love a person of the same sex? What did they do? Absolutely nothing! Your Honor, when you read the reasons given for these charges, you will realize that there is no flagrant crime of homosexuality in this case.”
Ditisheim reminds the court of international conventions that Cameroon has ratified and that apply to this case. At that, some people in the room grumble.
“We do not want this lawyer from elsewhere. Here we are in Cameroon, the law is the law. One must respect it,” someone says.
The government’s attorney agrees: “Homosexuality is a crime here. The detainees have not followed the law. They are currently paying for their crime. Their two guarantors lack credibility. We cannot trust them. Besides, who says that if these young people are released, they will not leave the country to live their lives of debauchery in those countries where white men marry other men?”
The appellate judges took the matter under advisement until Aug. 3.
Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome have been in jail since their arrest in late July 2011, while a third young man, arrested with them, received a provisional release because he was able to pay the fine directly.
The three men were surprised when they had sex in a vehicle on public roads in the district Essos in Yaoundé on the night of July 26 to 27, 2011.
On Nov. 22, 2011, a judge found the two men guilty and imposed the maximum sentence. He said both men were obviously effeminate because they wore wigs and had drunk Baileys, which he said is a typically feminine drink.
Eric O. LEMBEMBE