After three days in police custody in Cameroon, two gay men were released yesterday, but their daily life remains a nightmare.
“I’m upset and depressed. Because of what has happened to us [an attack by a gay-bashing crowd, death threats, police detention], I am more and more stressed. I fear that tomorrow morning our lifeless bodies will be found on a street in Yaoundé,” says Jonas Singa Kumie.
His longtime friend, Franky Djome, with whom he was imprisoned for homosexuality starting in 2011, feels “half dead.”
“Words fail me” he says in a low voice. “We’re in a living hell.”
After three days in custody at the Emombo police station in Yaoundé, the two men were released at about 7 p.m. March 27 from a court in Ekounou, where they had been hidden from their attackers. On March 24, wearing feminine attire, the two young men had been attacked in a local marketplace, sought help from police and were arrested. Eventually the public prosecutor asked that the pair be released after they spent time in hiding in a room away from curiosity seekers and homophobes.
Djome says worriedly, “If people accost us like that at the market, what will happen to us in our neighborhood or on the street?” He adds:
We will never go shopping again. We will never go out again. Every time we stick our noses out, we are insulted and plotted against. People throw banana peels and rocks at us. They spit on us. What have we done? Are we not human beings like everyone else?
Every day, we receive death threats. We live in total insecurity. Recently, the guys from our neighborhood threatened us, saying they would rape us, then kill us. They do and say all that publicly and nothing happens to them. Others think we should be killed — hanged. They think queers like us don’t deserve to be allowed to live in Cameroon.
A woman who was injured in the March 24 brawl wrote a letter withdrawing her complaint against the pair, but they were still forced to spend a third night at the Emombo police station. If they wanted to released immediately, the police commander said, they would need to pay the prosecutor’s office 100,000 CFA (about $195 or 152 euros), a sum that could not be raised by the young men, their families, or the men’s mediators from the human rights group Cameroonian Association Foundation For AIDS (CAMFAIDS).
Michel Engama, CAMFAIDS mediator, said:
The next day, March 27, an assistant of Michel Togué, Jonas and Franky’s lawyer, arrived at about 10 a.m. to inquire about the case.
After lengthy discussion with the police commander and the investigating police officer, nothing had changed. The commander demanded the payment of 100,000 CFA in order not to refer Jonas and Franky to the public prosecutor, even though he had no complaints against them.
He felt that a proposed 20,000 CFA settlement [paid by Djome’s mother to the injured woman] for the release of the transgender pair was very inadequate.
Following the refusal of the commander, an email was sent to Togué in Geneva, who requested the intervention of the Ekounou prosecutor. The prosecutor knew both men well because of their 2011 conviction on homosexuality charges, their successful appeal, and their release in January 2013.
The prosecutor went to the police station at 1 p.m., summoned the police commander and told him to transfer Djome and Kumie to the Ekounou courthouse. An hour later, they were escorted through a hostile crowd and people who were curious to see the two “fags.”
Once they arrived at the courthouse, the prosecutor ordered that they be taken his office because a mob had already gathered at the courthouse entrance. Despite some grumblings from some of his obviously homophobic colleagues, the prosecutor kept the young men in his office until about 7 p.m. to allow the crowd to dissipate. They were then put in a taxi for their return home.
Even before the March 24 attack, Djome and Kumie had been the target of an assault at Mokolo, another popular market of Yaoundé. Kumie recalled:
When we walked by, shop keepers and other vendors screamed at us, saying that we should be lynched, hanged, killed.. A woman spat in my face. A dispute broke out. Vendors grabbed us and took our things. We had to duck into a small shop to avoid being lynched. Without the help of security guards, we wouldn’t have gotten away.
— Eric O. LEMBEMBE