Cameroon arrestees freed, but possible probe looms

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

Michel Togué (Photo du DialogAI.org)
Cameroonian attorney Michel Togué (Photo courtesy of Global Rights)

At exactly 5:45 p.m.  Tuesday, Oct. 7, an assistant of attorney Michel Togué sent him a text message informing him of the provisional release of two allegedly gay detainees and two trans women, Jonas and Franky.

Those four arrestees breathed a huge sigh of relief, as did the defense team and the whole community of Cameroonian LGBT activists, who had mobilized earlier this month to monitor the case and work to prevent the detainees at the police station from being sent to prison.

It is a case that has troubled LGBT rights advocates worldwide, who learned of the plight of six people who were arrested  and held in custody at the Kondengui police station in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. (Previous articles had put the number of arrestees at seven.)

They had been arrested Oct. 1 on charges of homosexuality and prostitution after police raided a home belonging to a person suspected of homosexuality.

One of the arrestees, a minor, was released on Oct. 2 after his mother explained that her son was still a student and pleaded emotionally for his release.

Another arrestee was released after influential people intervened on his behalf,  investigators said.

Of the remaining four, the best known are trans women Franky and Jonas, who had been convicted and imprisoned for homosexuality in 2011 and released in early 2013.

On Friday, Oct. 3, the police commander ordered that the detainees be turned over to the Ekounou district court.  There, one of Togué’s assistants urged the prosecutor to send them back to the police station.

That request was granted in the late afternoon, which meant that the defendants spent the weekend in detention at the police station.

On Monday, Oct. 6, the defense team was unable to discuss the case with the police commander, who was out all day.

On Tuesday, Oct. 7, the commander returned and sent the detainees back to the court.  The defense team argued with the prosecution that, because the police lacked crucial elements in their case and had not completed their investigation, the arrestees should be released.

The prosecutor agreed to their release after warning that they would be ordered to return to court if the investigation found that the charges against them were valid.

The defense team celebrated the release as a victory, even though it is only a provisional release.

Togué’s assistant said “it would be premature” to attempt to predict what will happen next. But she questioned whether any further investigation will actually occur.

The author of this article is an LGBT rights activist in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym.

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, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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