12 in prison for being gay, 13 more awaiting trial

Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome, with their attorney, Alice Nkom.
In Cameroon, Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome are appealing their five-year sentence for homosexual activity, with their attorney, Alice Nkom. (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

Worldwide, at least 12 people are currently in prison for violating laws that punish those who are born gay, lesbian or bisexual. In addition, at least 13 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 25 names may be 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 one of many types of injustice affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sometimes with fatal results.

They 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 last year 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.

Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998, apparently because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998, apparently because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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 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 this year and perhaps David Kato in Uganda last year.

At present, the lists are dominated by Cameroon (8 in prison and 11 free while awaiting trial), with Nigeria a distant second (3 in prison). 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.

Surprisingly, no one in Uganda is 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, but they aren’t currently being jailed.



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.

1. Bestwood Chukwuemeka
3 months in prison. Sentenced Sept. 18, 2012.

Bestwood Chukwuemeka was imprisoned for having anal sexual intercourse with a man who was asleep in his bed.  He pleaded guilty after saying he was drunk at the time and thought the man was his girlfriend.

2 and 3. 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.

4 and 5. 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.

6 and 7. Joseph Magloire Ombwa and Séraphin Ntsama
In prison awaiting trial.

Joseph Magloire Ombwa and Séraphin Ntsama were among a group of four men were 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) and Nicolas Ntamack, the other two men who were arrested with them in August 2011.  All four are still awaiting trial, but Lontsi and Ntamack were released from prison in July 2012.

8. Samuel Gervais Akam
In prison awaiting trial.

Samuel Gervais Akam is being held at the New Belle prison in Douala, awaiting trial for homosexuality.

9 and 10. 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)

11. Louis Marcel Ijanja
In prison awaiting trial.

Louis Marcel Ijanja, a village chief, has been imprisoned since Sept. 3, 2010, when he was arrested in the coastal city of Kribi on charges of homosexuality. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)


Under sharia law, the death penalty can be imposed for homosexual activity in Saudi Arabia.

12. 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.



Roger Jean Claude Mbede: "I feel rejected by everyone."
Roger Jean Claude Mbede of Cameroon was sentenced to three years in prison for homosexuality.  (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

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.

2, 3. Stéphane Maliedji and Jean Jacques Eyock
Awaiting trial

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
Awaiting trial.

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 while awaiting trial. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)

7, 8. Tiomela Lontsi and Nicolas Ntamack
Awaiting trial

Tiomela Lontsi (Emma Tiomela Lontsie) and Nicolas Ntamack were arrested in August 2011 on homosexuality charges.  They were released in July 2012 to await the start of their trial.  Joseph Magloire Ombwa and Séraphin Ntsama, who were arrested with them, are still in prison while awaiting trial. (Source: Open letter in French to president of Cameroon)

9, 10, 11. Esther Aboa  Belinga, Martine Solange Abessolo and Mrs. Assom Ndem née Djula
Awaiting trial

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)


Zimbabwean law provides for sentences of up to one year for homosexual activity.

12, 13.  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.


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.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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