LGBTI activists challenge Cameroon police harassment

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

Humanity First logo
Logo of Humanity First

Since April 4, the Cameroonian anti-Aids pro-LGBTI rights organization Humanity First has been under pressure from Emombo district police after advocating for the release of a young man who was arrested in Yaoundé on homosexuality-related charges.

Now, activists from LGBTI groups throughout the city and from the commercial capital of Douala have gathered to support their imperiled Yaoundé-based colleagues.

Tensions rose last weekend, as leaders of Humanity First tried to obtain the release of the defendant, known as Hervé.

Attorneys Jatan Ndongo, who began working on the case last week, and  Michel Togué, who joined him, reported that Hervé had been transferred to the jurisdiction of the prosecutor at Ekounou. 

They learned on April 11 that Wilfried Ella, a member of the  presidential guard in Ekounou, had demanded a payment of 150,000 CFA francs (about 229 euros) to withdraw the complaint against Hervé.

Such demands are frequent in Cameroon, where police and judicial authorities often make false accusations based on Cameroon’s anti-gay law, Article 347 bis, in order to line their pockets at the expense of marginalized LGBTI community members.

As a likely result of their confrontations with police, the security of Humanity First’s president, Jules Eloundou, and of the director of its human rights section is in jeopardy. They have received anonymous calls in recent days from individuals threatening to go after them.

“You think you have won, but it’s not over,” one caller said. “Later we’re going to get hold of you one way or another.”

That certainly is a result of their legal work on behalf of Hervé and their refusal to comply with a summons issued by Jean Esso, the Emombo police station’s brigade commander.

In February 2015, Humanity First had asked the Emombo police to investigate a robbery at its headquarters, after which police visited the site for a formal statement. That fact now makes Humanity First members nervous, because they feel that they’re at the mercy of the brigade commander and his clique, who, they realize, are aware of the specific layout of the association’s headquarters.

LGBTI rights groups in Cameroon met on April 12 to draft a joint press release that will be issued about the situation. These are their demands:

  • Clarification about the instructions on human rights that the head of state [President Paul Biya] brought to the attention of the French ambassador  in 2013. Those instructions ordered the judiciary and law enforcement not to arrest or detain people on the basis of homosexuality. Three years later, it is particularly worrying that such cases continue to occur.
  • An intersection in the Nkolndongo district of Yaoundé(Photo courtesy of iCameroon.com)
    An intersection in the Nkolndongo district of Yaoundé(Photo courtesy of iCameroon.com)

    A guarantee of the safety of the leaders of Humanity First, including a move to  a more secure location.

  • The transfer of Commander Jean Esso to another unit, because he has demonstrated such intense hostility toward members of the LGBTI community, as seen in the financial burdens he has imposed on them for years. Activists feel totally insecure living and working in his jurisdiction, which includes District 4 of Yaoundé, where at least two LGBTI associations are located, and in the Nkolndongo health district, where most conduct their work of HIV/Aids awareness education among most-at-risk populations. Considering the relentlessness of the brigade commander, the latest events are a very bad omen both for activists and for their clients.

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

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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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