Now Reading
It’s Giving Tuesday. PLEASE DONATE: We freed 4 more innocent gay prisoners

It’s Giving Tuesday. PLEASE DONATE: We freed 4 more innocent gay prisoners

Cameroon: Release of innocent gay prisoners ended 10 months behind bars without a trial.

CLICK to receive an email notice of each new Erasing 76 Crimes article

Innocent gay prisoners: In December 2022, police arrested five gay men watching movies in Bafoussam, Cameroon. (Illustration by Otavio Zani)
Illustration by Brazilian artist Otavio Zani depicting police arresting the five gay men who were watching movies in Bafoussam, Cameroon, on Dec. 22, 2022 .

Four innocent gay prisoners walked free this fall, putting an end to  10 months in Cameroon’s Bafoussam Prison without trial after they were arrested on homosexuality charges last December.

The detainees — Tom, Ben, Stan and Sean (all pseudonyms for their protection) — are four of the 13 innocent victims of African homophobia that this site’s Project Not Alone 2023 has been working to set free, starting last May.

Fundraising is now under way for this site’s activist journalists, whose hands-on work provides the foundation for Project Not Alone’s advocacy on behalf of innocent LGBTQ prisoners such as Tom, Ben, Stan and Sean.

PLEASE DONATE so we can continue this work.

The four men and a companion, Kurt, were arrested on Dec. 22, 2022, while they were in an apartment watching a homosexual pornographic film. The noise of the sex scenes in the film alerted a neighbor, who informed the police.

Ranging in age from 22 to 33, the five gay friends lived in several small rooms, working at occasional jobs to pay the rent. Their neighbor had suspected for a while that they were in violation of Cameroon’s anti-homosexuality law, which calls for prison sentences of up to five years for same-sex intimacy.

Each of the men had chosen to live apart from his family in order to gain freedom from social reproach and psychological trauma stemming from society’s rejection of their sexual orientation and gender identity.The five friends are not in a relationship but did meet regularly for sex. In December 2022, they were together at Kurt’s home watching movies when the police arrived.

Logo of Project Not Alone (Otavio Zuni illustration courtesy of the artist)
Logo of Project Not Alone (Otavio Zuni illustration courtesy of the artist)

Police seized their phones, which contained clips of homosexual pornographic films. After the raid, they were held in custody in police cells for several days  with no money, no help from their families and no lawyer. Then  they appeared at a preliminary hearing and were transferred to Bafoussam Prison.

On March 14, a team from this news site’s Project Not Alone visited them at Bafoussam Prison. The team consisted of activist journalist Steeves Winner,  the director of the LGBTI advocacy group SOS Solidarity, and attorney Stevins Mbatat, working pro bono. The team identified seven detainees who were innocent other than homosexuality charges and thus were eligible for help from Project Not Alone. In addition to the young men arrested on Dec. 22, the seven innocent detainees included two lesbian prisoners, Martha and Sally, who had already been tried, convicted and were serving a one-year sentence.

In May, Project Not Alone began fundraising for 13 prisoners in Bafoussam and Mfou, Cameroon, and in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.  Early donations were used to pay fines for four of the 14; they were promptly set free. On Sept. 18, the project’s fundraising goal was achieved, thanks to a substantial donation from the U.K.-based Attitude Foundation. Finally, Project Not Alone had enough money to pay legal expenses for attorney Mbatat, who was still working pro bono.

Ben and Tom ponder their futures after their release from Bafoussam Prison. (Stevins Mbatat photo)
Ben and Tom ponder their futures after their release from Bafoussam Prison. (Stevins Mbatat photo)

By the time he began working for detainees Tom, Ben, Stan and Sean, the fifth detainee, Kurt, had already been released, apparently through intervention by his family.

In early September, Mbatat demanded the release of the four young men, noting that:

  • The prosecutor’s file on the four men was defective — it did not contain their identity papers or minutes of their preliminary hearing.
  • The file contained no evidence of their guilt.
  • One of the five arrestees had already been released.

On Sept. 22, the judge gave them each a suspended sentence and a fine of 174,200 CFA francs (about $291) plus court costs of  19,600 CFA francs (about $33) — a total of  775,200 CFA francs (about $1,295).

On Sept. 29, on behalf of Project Not Alone, the St. Paul’s Foundation sent 775,200 CFA francs to the LGBTI rights activists at SOS Solidarity for transfer to attorney Mbatat, who paid the fines.

Prisoners released

Tom, Ben, Stan and Sean were released on Oct. 9.

See Also
Lesbian prisoners behind bars.

Sean immediately headed to his native village, paying for that travel with 10,000 CFA francs (about $17) provided by Project Not Alone.

“I am very happy with this support provided by St Paul Foundation and SOS Solidarity for my release,” Sean said. “I ask no more. Currently, my priority is to return to my native village to recharge my batteries, regain all my strength and think about my future, especially how to restart my life after this dark episode.”

All four young men were invited to celebrate their release with Mbatat at a nearby restaurant.  Tom, Ben and Stan accepted the invitation.  They expressed their thanks to the St. Paul’s Foundation and said they hoped to meet their benefactors some day. They also expressed hopes to eventually raise money to buy a $500 table soccer game that they could use to generate income.

Stan and Tom chat in restaurant after their release from Bafoussam Prison. (Stevins Mbatat photo)
Stan and Tom chat in a restaurant after their release from Bafoussam Prison. (Stevins Mbatat photo)

After the meal, rather than abandon them on the streets of Bafoussam,  Project Not Alone provided them with a short stay at a hotel so they could make plans for where they would live.

Project Not Alone picked up the tabs for the restaurant and the hotel, a total of 133,000 CFA francs (about $222).

Work such as this is made possible by this news site’s financial sponsor, the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which is seeking donations to continue the work for LGBTQ+ rights, equality and acceptance, especially in Africa and the Caribbean.

Please DONATE to help us reach our fundraising goal of $5,000, which will allow the advocacy journalists whom we support to continue their work into next year. They are active in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, the Caribbean and in French-speaking Africa.

white space

PLEASE DONATE NOW: Donations are needed to continue supporting our advocacy journalists and operating the websites that deliver their articles to readers. Here are ways to make a donation supporting LGBTQ rights (tax-deductible in the U.S.):

  • Donations via DonorBox. Our preference is recurring monthly donations. You can halt recurring monthly donations at any time.
  • Donations via PayPal (by credit card or PayPal transfer). Recurring monthly donations are also available via PayPal.
  • Donations by mail: Send checks payable to St. Paul’s Foundation at 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top

Discover more from Erasing 76 Crimes

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading