Africa

12 arrested in Cameroon for possessing condoms

By Erin Royal Brokovitch
Cameroon's location in Africa

Cameroon’s location in Africa

Police in Cameroon arrested 12 people on homosexuality charges on the night of Nov. 29 in Yaoundé for having condoms and lubricating gel in their possession at a video club.

The arrests complicate Cameroon’s fight against AIDS among MSM (men who have sex with men) because, although use of  materials such as condoms and gels reduces the risk of HIV / AIDS, it also now raises the risk of arrest.

Two days after their arrest, all 12 were released, thanks to the intervention of a lawyer for the Global Fund.
Police from the Emombo station arrived at the video club around midnight. The 12 people present were found with STI- and HIV/AIDS-prevention materials that the anti-AIDS organization Humanity First had given them the previous day, which was World AIDS Day. Police accused them of practicing homosexuality because they had those condoms and gels in their possession and were watching gay videos.

The club patrons were all well-behaved, according to the club’s doorman. Police forced them to say that they were homosexuals and that they frequented the club for that reason.
The 12 arrestees were taken to the Emombo police station.

Logo of Alternatives-Cameroon

Logo of Alternatives-Cameroon

The incident began with the earlier arrest of two boys for lack of identity cards, according to a joint press release from Alternatives Cameroon and Humanity First Cameroon, two groups that work for LGBT rights and against AIDS.

The youths had condoms and lubricating gels on them. Police interrogated them about the origin of those materials and concluded that they were homosexual because police believe that homosexuals are the most frequent users of condoms and gels. Fearful, the boys led police to the doorman at the club, who gave them objects. At the club, they found the 12 people watching a video with the HIV prevention materials in their possession.

Police inquired about the source of the condoms and lubricating gels. They were told that the materials came from the United Nations anti-AIDS program, UNAIDS, according to Jules Eloundou, the president of Humanity First Cameroon.
Reputation for harassment

The Emombo police division has earned a reputation of harassing homosexuals and making arrests for alleged homosexuality. In April, for example, a young man named
Hervé was arrested after being entrapped by a member of the presidential guard. The police commander, Jean Esso, has been relentless in his pursuit of alleged homosexuals and has clashed publicly with the leaders of Humanity First.
In addition, the trans women Jonas and Francky have repeatedly been  detained by Emombo police.

Logo of Humanity First Cameroon

Logo of Humanity First Cameroon

On Nov. 30, the day after the 12 arrests, Eloundou requested intervention from attorney Jatan Ndongo, the legal counsel of the Global Fund’s  HIV / AIDS prevention project. Ndongo visited the police station and negotiated the eventual release of the 12 men.  Seven of them were freed early on Dec. 1. The remaining five were released around 4:30 p.m.

Anti-AIDS associations said the arrests are a bad sign for their efforts to combat HIV / AIDS, which has been decimating the gay community in Cameroon. HIV prevalence is estimated at 35 percent about gay Cameroonians.
This population is considered a “key population” in the fight against AIDS. Many anti-AIDS programs in Cameroon distribute awareness-raising messages that promote the systematic use of prevention materials such as condoms and gels as a crucial method for limiting the spread of HIV.

Denunciations and proposals

In their press release, Yaoundé-based Humanity First Cameroon and Douala-based Alternatives Cameroon denounced:

  • Use of HIV prevention materials as evidence of homosexuality;
  • This resurgence of arrests on the basis of alleged sexual orientation, coming after a lull in such arrests.

They appealed for:

  • A dialogue between the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Justice about key populations in the fight against AIDS;
  • Involvement of judiciary and law enforcement agencies in anti-AIDS programs.

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

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