LGBT in Cameroon: imprisoned for 16 months, no trial

A faith-based American-African delegation to Cameroon, who are lobbying for health care and human rights for LGBT people there, today visited LGBT prisoners at Yaounde Central Prison. Journalist Andy Kopsa reported on the visit for her Cameroon blog

Among about 20 LGBT prisoners, the group met with four LGBT inmates who have been incarcerated without a trial as “suspected homosexuals,” including one who has been imprisoned for 16 months without facing official charges.

Excerpts from Kopsa’s account:

Prison centrale à Yaoundé.
Yaounde Central Prison

[At Yaounde Central Prison, of] 4113 prisoners there are murderers, petty thieves, carjackers and burglars.  At least 20 of them — mostly men but reportedly four women (in Yaounde alone) — are imprisoned just for being gay, a crime against nature in Cameroon.

Heat and red tape

It is hot.  [The Rev. Albert Ogle] and I are invited to sit on two wooden chairs, our backs to the chalkboard.  I look at Albert in his full priest regalia. My God, if I am hot he must be boiling under all that black and the high crisp collar. Our activist friends (who I will call Antoine and Robert – I cannot use their real names) sit in two filthy plush recliners which have no feet.  [The prison administrator – we started calling him the “Governor” –] sits behind a hulking metal desk.  He takes our passports, our prison tickets and eyeballs us.  He pulls out a pad of paper and begins taking down our information.  The pad is brand new, it isn’t some official register, it occurs to me this is all a show.  They don’t really keep records here.

Red tape and bribes

Bribes are normal, the inmates are left to their own.  For chrissakes the former prime minister is in the prison – but he gets to “rent” a “luxury” apartment. …

L'intérieur de la prison centrale. (Photo de Camerpress.com)
Interior of Yaounde Central Prison. (Photo courtesy of Camerpress.com)

There are hoops to jump through to get inside Yaounde prison on the outskirts of Yaounde, Cameroon.  By the time we were sitting in front of the Governor we had been working on the visit for two days.  First you need “tickets” issued by the department of justice, then you have to go to a snack and soda shack across the road from the prison itself to wait and pay the guard (who comes to the tin-roofed shop) a bribe to be let in.  The guard is the shop owner’s sister.  I wonder what his cut is?

It is recommended we buy food for the prisoners we are going to meet.  In prison they have to pay for their own food.  We buy bags of tapioca and cane sugar.  They will mix it together in water to eat. …

6 LGBT prisoners, but just 2 had gone to trial

Finally the prisoners we requested are brought in.  There are six in all.  Five men and one woman.  We all shake hands and introduce ourselves.  I thought we would get to speak with them in private – or at least not in the Governor’s office.  But we are there along with another prison official who just joined us.  He is the PR guy.  He is there to listen and do damage control and spin if needs be.

Of the six, two have been “condemned.”  This is their word, condemned, their trials had taken place and sentences handed down.  One man is to serve two years, the woman is in for five.  The others – those not condemned — still sit in prison.  One has been in Yaounde for 7 months, one for 4 months, the other for 16 months.  None has been tried and all are being held (counter to the Cameroonian constitution) without official charges.  They are in prison for “suspected homosexuality.”

They have all been abused by prisoners and authorities alike.  (The woman whispered the part about abuse by the guards since the Governor was listening), there is no healthcare (a doctor gives out “tablets” aspirin and if you are referred to the prison hospital as an inmate you have to pay your own way).  There are no beds (the inmates must buy them but we are told the prison doesn’t sell them) the new water (potable)  line they want to dig is caught up in Cameroonian Government Red Tape.

For more information, read all three of Andy Kopsa’s blog posts about the visit to Yaounde Central Prison:

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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 info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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