Arrests of two gay-rights workers this week in Uganda bring to at least 13 the number of people worldwide who are currently imprisoned on charges of violating laws that punish those who are born gay, lesbian or bisexual. In addition, at least 14 other people are awaiting trial for homosexuality.
The prison sentences vary from three months to five years — at the low end of punishments that are on the books in the 76-plus countries where homosexuality is currently illegal.
Listing 27 names is probably an extreme understatement of the number of people who are behind bars or awaiting trial on anti-homosexuality charges, but finding out about specific cases is difficult, especially in countries without a free press.
The lists below provide a narrow window into just one of many types of injustice affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sometimes with fatal results. (See the last section of this post.)
At present, the lists are dominated by Cameroon (8 in prison and 12 free while awaiting trial), with Nigeria and Uganda a distant second (2 in prison in each country). Those countries have a similar combination of repressive laws and active news media. One unidentified man in Saudi Arabia is on the list, because no word has been received about his status since he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010. Two men are listed as awaiting trial in Zimbabwe, while two other Zimbabwean men get a mention, although the facts of their case are in dispute.
Until New Year’s week, no one in Uganda was on the lists, despite that country’s deserved reputation for homophobia. Uganda’s LGBT people confront stigma, rejection, extortion, exclusion from health care, and the possibility of passage of the notorious “Kill the Gays” bill. Now the police have started making homosexuality-related arrests too.
13 PEOPLE IMPRISONED FOR HOMOSEXUALITY
Ugandan law provides for life sentences for homosexual activity, though the law has rarely been enforced. Two young LGBT activists were arrested on homosexuality-related charges just before and just after New Year’s Day 2013.
1. Joseph Kawesi
Joseph Kawesi was arrested Dec. 31 on charges of homosexual activity and reportedly also “promoting homosexuality,” though that is not an offense under current Ugandan law. Seeking bail.
2. Kabuye Najibu
Kabuye Najibu was arrested Jan. 2 when he went to visit Joseph Kawesi at the police station where he is jailed. Najibu is reported charged with homosexual activity and “promoting homosexuality.” Like Kawesi, Najibu is seeking his release on bail, but that has not yet been granted.
Nigerian law provides for sentences of up to 14 years for homosexual activity. In parts of northern Nigeria where sharia law applies, the death penalty can be applied for same-sex intercourse.
3 and 4. Ifeanyi Chukwu Agah and Rabiu Benedict Yusuf
Two years in prison. Sentenced March 21, 2012.
Ifeanyi Chukwu Agah and Rabiu Benedict Yusuf were convicted of same-sex intercourse after police said Rabiu refused to pay Ifeanyi for his services as a prostitute. Rabiu asked for mercy on the grounds that he was married with six children, but the court rejected his plea.
Cameroonian law provides for sentences of up to five years for homosexual activity. Human rights organizations are seeking the release of eight people who are in prison in Cameroon for homosexuality.
5 and 6. Jonas Singha Kumie and Franky Ndome (Djome)
5 years in prison
Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome were in a group of three men who were arrested in July 2011 for homosexual acts. They were sentenced to five years in prison and now are appealing their sentences. The third man who was arrested with them paid a fine and was released.
7, 8 and 9. Joseph Magloire Ombwa, Séraphin Ntsama and Nicolas Ntamack
In prison awaiting trial.
Joseph Magloire Ombwa, Séraphin Ntsama, and Nicolas Ntamack were among a group of four men arrested August 10, 2011, on homosexuality charges and subjected to anal examinations. They are still being held at the central prison in Yaoundé awaiting trial. In January, along with Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome,. they issued a New Year’s message expressing thanks to their supporters for giving them reason to hope, along with Tiomela Lontsi (Emma Tiomela Lontsie), the other man arrested with them in August 2011. All four are still awaiting trial, but Lontsi and Ntamack were released from prison in July 2012. In October 2012, Ntamack was re-arrested on new charges.
10 and 11. Emile Mamougou Nkoa and Fabien Mbala
Convicted. Sentence and whereabouts unknown.
Emile Mamougou Nkoa and Fabien Mbala were arrested for homosexuality and convicted on May 14, 2010. Their sentences and current status are unknown. Their attorneys do not know where they are being held. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)
12. Cornelius Fonya
In prison awaiting trial.
Police in the coastal city of Limbe arrested Cornelius Fonya on Oct. 29 on homosexuality charges after a mob seized him and delivered him to the police station. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in a hearing on Nov. 7. His request for release on bail was denied. His lawyer says Fonya was arrested on the basis of the mob’s accusation.
> SAUDI ARABIA
Under sharia law, the death penalty can be imposed for homosexual activity in Saudi Arabia.
13. Name unknown. In November 2010, a 27-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to 500 lashes and five years’ imprisonment by a court in Jeddah for the criminal offence of homosexuality, among other charges, Amnesty International reported.
14 PEOPLE IN DANGER OF BEING RETURNED TO PRISON
1. Jean-Claude Roger Mbede
Awaiting appeal of three-year sentence
Jean-Claude Roger Mbede is free temporarily for medical treatment after serving one year of a three-year prison sentence for homosexuality. He was arrested after sending a text message expressing his love to a man he thought was his friend. An Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, Mbede is appealing his sentence to the Supreme Court.
2, 3. Stéphane Maliedji and Jean Jacques Eyock
Stéphane Maliedji and Jean Jacques Eyock of Cameroon, along with Australian citizen John Vasek, were arrested on March 26, 2010, on charges of violating Cameroon’s anti-homosexuality laws. They were released after Vasek paid $2,500 to the police. The case is still pending, and Vasek has apparently left the country. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)
4, 5, 6. Aboubakar Siliki, Mbezele Yannick and Yntebeng Pascal
Aboubakar Siliki and Mbezele Yannick were arrested in April 2011 on homosexuality charges after they went to the police station in Douala to try to resolve a dispute over finances. When Yntebeng Pascal arrived at the police station to discuss the situation, he too was arrested on homosexuality charges after police deemed him “too effeminate.” The three men were detained for two days. They were then released awaiting trial. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)
7. Tiomela Lontsi
Tiomela Lontsi (Emma Tiomela Lontsie) was arrested in August 2011 on homosexuality charges. He was released in July 2012 to await the start of his trial. Joseph Magloire Ombwa, Séraphin Ntsama, and Nicolas Ntamack, who were arrested with him, are still in prison awaiting trial. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)
8, 9, 10. Esther Aboa Belinga, Martine Solange Abessolo and Mrs. Assom Ndem née Djula
Three women in the city of Ambam were charged with lesbianism in February 2012. Esther Aboa Belinga and Martine Solange Abessolo were arrested because they were living together. They were detained for six days before they were released pending trial. The wife of Assom Ndem née Djula was also charged after her husband accused her of being a lesbian, because Abessolo told him to keep her away from Aboa Belinga. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)
11. Samuel Gervais Akam
Samuel Gervais Akam was held for months at the New Belle prison in Douala, awaiting trial for homosexuality. In November 2012, he was released on bail to continue waiting for the trial to begin.
12. Louis Marcel Ijanja
Louis Marcel Ijanja, a village chief, was arrested Sept. 3, 2010, in the coastal city of Kribi on charges of homosexuality. Eventually he was released from jail to await his trial.
(Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)
Zimbabwean law provides for sentences of up to one year for homosexual activity.
13 and 14. Lionel Girezha and Ngonidzashe Chinya
Awaiting trial, perhaps in prison
Lionel Girezha, 27, and Ngonidzashe Chinya, 28, were arrested on Oct. 20, 2011, in the suburb of Mbare in Harare and charged with sodomy, Amnesty International reported. They were beaten before they were taken into police custody. At their first trial, gang members harassed and threatened their lawyers, who successfully appealed to have the trial’s location changed from Mbare. According to one informal report, Girezha and Chinya have been released pending the start of their new trial.
Two more? Ability Chatira Mpofu and Blessing Chauke
Ability Chatira Mpofu and Blessing Chauke reportedly were arrested in September 2012 after police found that Chauke was wearing women’s clothes and that the two men had gotten married. But the activist group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said they did not know the two men, so they concluded that they were fictional creations of Zimbabwe’s homophobic media.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Some ways to give a boost to the struggle to release these prisoners and to repeal all anti-homosexuality laws:
- Sign online petitions for the release of LGBT prisoners at allout.org.
- Support Amnesty International, which campaigns for some LGBT prisoners, most recently Jean-Claude Roger Mbede.
- Donate to the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and its Spirit of 76 Worldwide project, which seeks the repeal of anti-homosexuality laws currently on the books in 76-plus countries.
OTHER INJUSTICES FACING LGBT PEOPLE
Of necessity, the lists above omit many types of injustices that confront LGBTI people worldwide. Here are a few of the omissions:
The lists above do not include people who were executed in one of the seven countries where homosexual activity is a capital crime. (In Iran, three people were executed in 2011 for homosexual activities, according to Amnesty International.)
The lists do not include the dozens of gay men who reportedly have been killed by death squads in Iraq without any government interference and sometimes with help from police.
The lists do not include the many people who die of AIDS each year in countries where LGBT people are excluded from HIV prevention programs. Nor do they include the countless heterosexual women who die of AIDS after contracting HIV from their closeted gay or bisexual husband in countries where homosexuals are stigmatized.
The lists do not include lesbians and gays, such as Tyler Clementi of Rutgers University in the United States, who commit suicide because of the scorn they suffer or the unwarranted shame they feel because of who they are.
The lists do not include people killed by bigots because they are gay, such as Matthew Shepard in the United States in 1998, and an alleged 249 people in Peru during 2006-2010.
They do not include people killed because they are working for gay rights, such as Daniel Zamudio in Chile and Thapelo Makutle in South Africa in 2012 and perhaps David Kato in Uganda in 2011.
They also do not include lesbian and bisexual women who suffer “corrective rapes” or sexual assaults because of their sexual orientation.
- Open letter to Cameroon leader: Stop jailing LGBTs (76crimes.com)
- Cameroon men appeal 5-year sentence for gay sex (76crimes.com)
- In his cell in Cameroon, awaiting trial for homosexuality (76crimes.com)
- Prison for texting ‘I love you’? Petition pleads, ‘No!’ (76crimes.com)