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Cameroon: Two women arrested for walking together

Bonamoussadi public garden in Douala -- the scene of the arbitrary arrests. (Photo courtesy of Jacks Oke)
A child and a parent walk in Bonamoussadi public garden in Douala — the scene of the arbitrary arrests on Dec. 8. (Photo courtesy of Jacks Oke)

Earlier this month, two members of the LGBTI community of Douala, Cameroon, were subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture, and detention for three days — all for walking together in a public garden.

By Jacks Oke

Sign for the Ndogbong gendarmerie. (Photo by Jacks Oke)
Sign for the Ndogbong gendarmerie. (Photo by Jacks Oke)

Two young women — Coco, a pretty 19-year-old, and Vivi, a rather mannish 20-year-old — are just friends. They were arrested because a crowd of angry men decided that they were a lesbian couple.

Both are students in Douala who had met simply to talk over what was going on in their lives. For their security, their real names have not been used in this article.

Coco and Vivi are not lovers, as they made clear to the police before the police arrested them.

“We are not a couple, just good friends. Is friendship between girls criminal?” That was they said they told the members of Ndogbong’s gendarmerie brigade who challenged them during their walk in the public garden of Bonamoussadi on Friday, Dec. 8. “We merely met in the public garden to discuss our respective problems. This garden is a very popular public place in Douala.”

That night, Coco arrived first, at about 9 p.m.  A beautiful and charming young woman, she had to repel many advances from men around her. Dejected, they later grew angry when Vivi arrived on the scene. They began shouting at the two women: “Lesbians!” “Suckers!” etc.

The Ndogbong gendarmerie, where Coco and Vivi were detained and tortured for three days. (Photo by Jacks Oke)
The Ndogbong gendarmerie, where Coco and Vivi were detained and tortured for three days. (Photo by Jacks Oke)

Around midnight, gendarmes arrived, beat up the two friends, arrested them, and hauled them to the gendarmerie on charges of lesbianism.  The officers interrogated them, kicked them, and beat them with the flat side of a machete blade.  They were handcuffed and hung, standing, from a window frame. The mistreatment lasted for three days.

The two women decided that they had no choice but to confess to whatever the officers demanded.

Their parents came to the gendarmerie to plead for their release, but were unsuccessful. Next, local leaders of the national Unity human rights monitoring project got involved. The gendarmes demanded 100,000 CFA francs (about U.S. $182) in return for freeing the women.

The parents and the local activists got to work, collected the money and handed it over to the gendarmes in two deliveries. On Dec. 11, Coco and Vivi were released, one after the other.

This is Cameroonian justice, in which homophobic suspicions and allegations lead to arrests and torture.

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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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