Cameroon leader claims progress, but leaves LGBTs in jail

Paul Biya, president of Cameroon (Photo courtesy of
Paul Biya, president of Cameroon

Cameroon’s long-time leader, President Paul Biya, says people in his country are changing their minds about homosexuality.

But Biya has shown no signs of leadership on the issue and has done nothing to help the 19 people currently in prison or awaiting trial in Cameroon for their sexual orientation.

“We have recently had news that tribesmen convicted for homosexuality have been released. So there is a change of mind and there’s no reason to despair,” Biya said as he left a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Jan. 30.

He may have been referring to the release of Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome, who were released last month after winning an appeal of their five-year sentences. At their trial, the judge had said they were obviously homosexual because they drink Baileys, which he believed is a favorite of gay men. After their release, the two men were chased by an anti-gay mob and went into hiding for their protection.

At latest count, four people remained in prison in Cameroon on homosexuality charges, and 15 others are awaiting court action on homosexuality charges.

The most prominent of them is Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, who was sentenced to three years in prison for sending an amorous text message to a man.  He lost an appeal of his conviction and now places his hopes on a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court.

Despite that situation, Biya told reporters in Paris that “discussions are under way. People are talking, minds can change one way or another.”

“But currently it’s a crime,” he said, adding that homosexuality has been illegal in Cameroon since before he took office more than 30 years ago.

Biya has not responded to numerous appeals from the United Nations human rights office, European officials, and local and international human-rights advocates, urging Cameroon to change the law and release LGBT prisoners.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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