“The case of Clarisse Z. and Jeanine N., two young lesbians, each 27 years old, is unlike any of the other cases of homosexuality that I have defended until now.”
— Michel Togué, Cameroonian lawyer and human rights defender.
A defendant isn’t usually the person whose complaint prompts a police investigation, but in the case of Clarisse Z. and Jeanine N., that’s what happened, attorney Michel Togué explained in an interview on June 19. The case began when Clarisse went to a Yaoundé police station in January 2013 to complain about harassment and death threats. Police immediately began to investigate and quickly concluded that the root of the dispute was a homosexual relationship between the two women — one of them a supermarket clerk; the other, a sports instructor,
“In the mind of the complainant, the issue was just to scare her ex-girlfriend with whom she had already broken up,” said Togué, who is serving as the attorney for both women. “According to statements by Clarisse, whom I met in jail, her ex-partner was very jealous and she wanted to be in contact with her. But to her surprise, the case turned against them. Both were arrested for homosexuality and were sent to Kondengui Prison.”
Under Cameroonian law, homosexual activity is punishable by up to five years in prison. Although the law as written only applies to sexual relations when caught in the act, in practice the law is often used to penalize people for being homosexual, even without evidence of any sexual activity.
Although there was no clear evidence that Clarisse and Jeanine had engaged in sexual activity, they were convicted by a Yaoundé district court on May 15 and sentenced to nine months in prison for homosexuality.
Their lawyer appealed the next day. Today, the two young women have already served almost half of their sentence.
Although the women were reluctant to publicize their case, this latest homosexuality trial worries LGBTI rights defenders. It came at a time when the pace of prosecutions of LGBT people in Cameroon had slowed, and after President Paul Biya told journalists in Paris that Cameroonian attitudes about homosexuality were changing.
“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.
But then Clarisse and Jeanine were sentenced to nine months in prison.
—Eric O. LEMBEMBE
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