Five LGBTI rights advocates in western Cameroon were arrested last weekend and remain behind bars at the Dschang police station on suspicion of homosexuality.
By Steeves Winner
About 7 p.m. on April 20, plainclothes police arrived unannounced at a youth center in Dchang and demanded proof of identification from each person there.
At the time, staff members were preparing to go home after closing up the youth center, which is the Dchang branch of the health and human-rights organization Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest, or AJO (Youthful Future of the West), based in Bafoussam, Cameroon.
Police roughed them up, forced them into a vehicle without explanation, and transported them to the Central Police Department of Dschang. They are still being held there. No visitors are allowed.
The work of AJO is to defend the human rights of LGBTI people and sex workers and to provide them with HIV information, treatment and other services.
François Lele, president and founder of AJO, said that the people arrested include the group’s executive director, three peer educators and a security guard.
Court hearings were scheduled for April 23 and April 24. Specific charges were not announced.
AJO said the raid was conducted in response to accusations from an unidentified individual who made claims about homosexuality at the AJO center. In Cameroon, sexual activity between members of the same sex is punishable by up to five years in prison. In principle, sexual attraction to a member of the same sex is not illegal, but in practice gay men are often arrested on charges of being homosexual.
The five men are being held in a single cell without beds or a latrine, AJO said. They are suffering mentally and physically. The executive director in particular is experiencing pain in his chest and head. AJO appealed to the police to allow a medical and psychological team to visit the prisoners.
Lele said police are investigating the men by raiding their homes and asking their families about their sexual orientations. The situation has left the local community in distress, in particular “the mystery maintained by the officers stationed at the Dschang Central Police Station around the reason for the arrests of our members and staff and the untimely raids on our homes,” he said.
AJO issued this statement today:
ALERT !!! Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest is a victim of arbitrary arrests and incarcerations
We are on the seventh day of the incarceration of our members and we will not hide from you the fact that our concern is growing.
We thank the Global Fund through its partnership with Affirmative Action [based in Yaoundé, Cameroon] and all the other partners, for all their moral, nutritional and legal support that we have received.
But all of us are increasingly wracked with fear because there’s no sign that our arrested peer educators [those three, plus the executive director and security guard] will be freed.
The situation is extreme: Tomorrow (April 27, 2018) is the last working day of the week before a very long weekend. If our staff members are not released then, they will spend that day and another four days behind bars before the possibility of their release is considered. On Monday, we begin the two-day celebration of Labor Day (April 30 and May 01).
The medical condition of our executive director is already alarming. The condition of our peer educators is fragile. We only imagine the psychological damage they are suffering because of this brutal imprisonment in the absence of any formal accusation. Their medical and psychological conditions demand rapid and effective intervention.
Once again, we call for decisive action: Purely and simply, release them!
You may think we are asking a lot, but only through a collective and concerted response will we succeed in liberating our colleagues and achieving a triumph of justice and human rights.
François Patrick WAFFO LELE
Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO)
Health, Equality, Development
Headquarters Bafoussam, Cameroon
Branch in Dschang, Cameroon
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Tel: +237 695203779 / +237 655162535
“Together for a just and non-discriminatory society”.
Steeves Winner, the author of this article, is an activist for LGBTI rights in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Profile of Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest in French and English (Global Network of Sex Work Projects)
- Press release: Arbitrary incarcerations in Cameroon — from Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (April 23, 2018, Pan-Africa ILGA)
This article was updated on April 26, 2018.