Cameroon jail looms for Roger Mbede; death threats for lawyers

Roger Jean Claude Mbede is having a difficult time returning to a normal life after prison.on after prison for homosexuality.
Roger Jean Claude Mbede

Roger Jean Claude Mbede is trying to come to grips with the grim prospect of being sent back to prison in Cameroon for being a homosexual.

The appeal of his three-year prison sentence was denied yesterday.  His attorney has 10 days to file a further appeal with the country’s supreme court, even though the appeals court has given no explanation for its decision.

At the same time, lawyers in Cameroon advocating the release of defendants accused of  homosexuality face death threats.  Alice Nkom and Michel Togue, two Cameroon attorneys seeking Mbede’s release, have been threatened in recent months and Togue received a text message threatening his children. Photos of his children leaving their school were attached to the text message.

Mbede was granted a temporary medical release in July. In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Mbede said yesterday:

“I am going back to the dismal conditions that got me critically ill before I was temporarily released for medical reasons. I am not sure I can put up with the anti-gay attacks and harassment I underwent at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of my perceived and unproven sexual orientation. The justice system in this country is just so unfair.”

Human Rights Watch, one of many groups seeking Mbede’s release, said that Mbede’s case “demonstrates that basic human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are under assault in Cameroon.” The organization urged President Paul Biya to take action, saying:

Cameroon should declare a moratorium on arrests and convictions under article 347 bis of the Cameroonian penal code, which criminalizes “sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” The article violates international law, including the right to privacy.

“The appeals court decision against Roger Mbede is a blow to key human rights principles, including the right to privacy, the right to equality, and the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment,” said Neela Ghoshal, researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The decision sends a warning to LGBT Cameroonians that they risk beatings, arrests, and imprisonment simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” …

Human Rights Watch outlined the abuse that Mbede suffered before and during his trial:

The gendarmerie encouraged the man to whom Mbede had sent three romantic text messages to invite Mbede to his home. They arrested Mbede when he arrived there, though visiting the acquaintance’s home was no crime and, in violation of Cameroonian law, the gendarmes had no warrant. They then claimed Mbede had been caught in the act of “attempted homosexuality.” He was held in gendarmerie custody beyond the legal limit of 48 hours.

After he refused to respond to interrogations, he said, he was beaten. He told Human Rights Watch: “The interrogator… called his friend, a gendarme, to beat me. The gendarme punched me in the mouth. He kept hitting me, tore my shirt. They threw away my shoes. When I went to the [prosecutor’s office], I was barefoot, like a bandit.”

Under duress, Mbede says, he told gendarmes he had had three previous relationships with men, whom he was forced to name. One of the men was summoned and interrogated. The man was released after investigators concluded that he had not had sex with Mbede. However, Mbede’s alleged relationship with the man still formed part of the charges.

Mbede had no legal representation at his trial, and told Human Rights Watch that the judge shouted at him and insulted him when he tried to approach the bar to respond to the allegations against him. He was represented by a lawyer, Michel Togue, in his appeal hearing.

The organization also detailed other human rights abuses in Cameroon:

The chief of Cameroon’s police force told Human Rights Watch that article 347 bis is only intended to apply to those who engage in same-sex conduct publicly. But there was no evidence that the accused engaged in sexual intercourse in public in any of the recent cases that resulted in convictions.

Mbede is one of several dozen people who have been prosecuted for homosexuality in Cameroon in the last several years, beginning with a mass arrest of alleged gays at a bar in Yaoundé in 2005. Other cases are equally illustrative of human rights violations. Two men in Yaoundé were convicted of homosexuality in 2011 in a case in which the only evidence presented was that gendarmes had found a sack of condoms and lubricant in their house.

In Kribi in 2010, when intelligence officials heard that a village chief had propositioned a man, in the absence of any complaint or evidence that any crime had been committed, they set up the chief for arrest. The intelligence office’s own report, seen by Human Rights Watch, says that intelligence officials convinced the man to make a date with the chief on a secluded beach. When the chief undressed at the other man’s request, intelligence officials jumped out of hiding, arrested him, took pictures, and made him walk to the intelligence office stark naked. He was subsequently convicted.

In Douala in 2010, three men were arrested in a hotel lobby and charged with homosexuality because two of them had shared a room at the hotel. The case proceeded to trial, but the men fled the country before a verdict was issued.

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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