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Cameroon's Anti-gay Laws Often Invoked Based On Stereotypes and Trickery Rather Than 'Sexual Relations'

Michel-TogueAnti-gay legislation in Cameroon is meant to punish "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" and can result in prison sentences up to five years in length. One attorney, Michel Togue (right), is speaking out against the injustice not only of the law itself, but also the shoddy, treacherous ways in which it is reinforced. According to Togue, article 347 of the Cameroon penal code is more often than not invoked based on stereotyping and entrapment.

Think Progress reports:

Togue told ThinkProgress that of the dozens of such cases he has represented, very few people were actually caught in the act of actually having sex. Once an accusation of homosexuality is made, police make arrests based solely on how individuals present themselves. For example, if a man is found to be cross-dressing, that could be used as proof that he is gay in court. If somebody has a job that doesn’t fit their gender, like a male hairdresser, that too could be used against them. A judge convicted one of Togue’s clients for feminine mannerisms and for drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, which he felt only a woman would drink...

Cameroon2One of the most high-profile cases was that of Jean-Claude Roger Mbede (left), who texted a picture of himself holding a sign that read, “I’m very much in love w/u” to another man. The recipient reported the image to the police as “sexual harassment,” then invited Mbede over to his home, where the police were waiting to arrest him. Mbede was sentenced to three years in prison. “If Roger was sentenced as a homosexual,” Togue asked, “with whom did he have sex?” Mbede was provisionally released on medical grounds in 2012 and went into hiding; he died earlier this year after he could no longer afford hospital treatment for a hernia.

While the widespread misuse of the penal code is disturbing, the reinforcement of anti-gay laws by the Catholic church is spreading a message of hate further than it would otherwise reach. in 2013, bishops from around the country issued a statement reading: "homosexuality opposes humanity and destroys it." The cultural ramifications of such fear-mongering are incredibly dangerous.

This stigma is also having a negative impact on health care in the country, particularly when it comes to HIV outreach. “They can’t go to the hospital for the treatment or even for a test because they’re afraid,” Togue explained. He knows of at least one case where an individual admitted to a nurse that he’d had same-sex relations and she called the police on him.

CameroonTogue remains hopeful, however, and believes that the work of LGBT organizations in Cameroon could positively impact the cultural milieu surrounding homosexual identity.

Togue hopes that local organizations in Cameroon will help people learn that “a homosexual is our friend, is our brother, is our sister, is part of our family — is not a stranger, not someone coming from outside.”

Image of Togue via Global Rights.


Cameroonian Man Jailed for Homosexuality Dies After Being Removed From Hospital

Mbede, nkom

A gay man in Cameroon who was jailed for sending a text message to another man saying “I’m very much in love with you” has died after his family removed him from a hospital where he had sought treatment for medical complications brought on by his stay in prison. The AP reports:

CameroonRoger Jean-Claude Mbede [above, left], 34, died on Friday after his family removed him from the hospital where he had been seeking treatment for a hernia, lawyer Alice Nkom [right] said.

"His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die," she said.

Mbede was arrested in March 2011, and given a three-year sentence the following month.

The AP adds:

Cameroon brings more cases against suspected homosexuals than any other African country, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group said in a March 2013 report that at least 28 people had been charged under the law in the past three years.

Mbede developed the hernia while in prison. In July 2012 he was granted provisional release on medical grounds, according to Human Rights Watch, and went into hiding. An appeals court upheld his conviction in December 2012.

International human rights activists have called on Cameroonian police to investigate Mbede's death in light of reports that he may have been barred from receiving medical treatment. 

Mbede had been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. 


Chris Brown Tweets Support for Gay Rights

Chris_brown

Singer Chris Brown tweeted his support for gay rights on Monday, along with a link to an AllOut petition to help gays under attack in the African nation of Cameroon.

Wrote Brown: "Love is not a crime. Gay or straight. Love who u wanna love. Stop the hate & sign here http://bit.ly/19BPAbF   #Unity"

Brown has been under fire in the past for using anti-gay slurs. In June, however, he announced a single in support of a UNITY campaign encouraging "all races, genders, sexes, (everyone) gay or straight  to love each other!"


Three Held For Questioning In Eric Ohena Lembembe Murder

The three were detained yesterday in relation to the brutal murder earlier this month.

The AFP reports:

6a00d8341c730253ef01910455ebc2970c-800wiThe three who were ordered held by criminal investigators in Yaounde are former colleagues of the activist, a lawyer close to the case told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

"We don't know what the police found," he added. Alice Nkom, lawyer for the Lembembe family, denounced what she called a botched investigation and cast doubt on the decision to question the three.

"Since we formulated reservations over how the investigation was conducted, they want to find any 'guilty ones,'" Nkom said. An officer close to the probe appeared to dismiss suggestions that the attack was homophobic. "We were at the scene of the murder. We have found a certain number of clues. There will be a rapid unfolding of events and people who believe it was a homophobic act risk being surprised," he said.


Cameroon Government Blasts Journalists For Coverage Of Lembembe Murder; Activists Call for Proper Investigation

Government officials in Cameroon have issued a statement criticising journalists over their coverage of the murder and brutal torture of prominent gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe last week.

6a00d8341c730253ef01901e4a106c970b-250wiThe AFP reports:

In the first official response to the killing of Eric Ohena Lembembe, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma said in a statement that journalists had engaged in "speculation and witch-hunting" in their coverage of the case, which has drawn expressions of concern from the U.S., France, Britain and the U.N.

"Backed by certain civil society activists and at times by some of our compatriots, the international media have launched attacks on our nation, dragging its image into the mud," Tchiroma said. He called for "a maximum of restraint" from civil society and the media while law enforcement authorities conduct an investigation.

"Any interference or untruthfulness of any nature and origin, notably in terms of information rendered public and propagated by the media, can be considered a violation of judicial secrecy or provocative commentary, which is against the law," he said.

Gay rights supporters in that country responded to the blasts:

"I don't trust the justice system, especially when the issue has to do with homosexuality," said Alice Nkom, one of the few lawyers in Cameroon willing to defend suspects charged under the country's anti-gay law. She said those who defend the rights of sexual minorities in Cameroon have long complained of threats and attacks with little response from the government. "It's a scandal for him to invite journalists and then to warn the civil society and foreign media to stop talking about it," she said.

Meanwhile, amid criticism of shoddy police work in the probe of the murder, activists in Cameroon are calling for the government to conduct a proper investigation.

A separate AFP article includes a statement by those activists:

"This crime occurs within a framework of homophobia marked by the silent complicity of authorities to incidents involving many individuals and organisations defending the rights of sexual minorities," 11 human rights groups said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department was quick to respond to Lembembe's murder urging "Cameroonian authorities to thoroughly and promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible for his death."


Are Marriage Equality Victories Making 'Life Worse' For Gay People In Developing Countries?

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 4.21.39 PMWhile the notion of expanding LGBT rights leading to potentially negative side effects seems like something pulled exclusively from right wing talking points, a global equal rights campaign group has warned that marriage equality advances in countries like the US, UK, and France have inadvertently led to a 'perverse' worsening of LGBT freedoms in developing countries.

Alistair Stewart, the assistant director of the Kaleidoscope Trust (a UK based charity run by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow) says that working to uphold LGBT rights internationally has grown more difficult as 'our opponents are increasingly moving their resources (and their rhetoric and their hate) to more fertile grounds in developing countries.'

Says Stewart:

The achievement of equal marriage, parenting and adoption rights and full legal protection can actually impede the struggles in other parts of the world where the battles for LGBT people are about the most fundamental of human rights. 76 countries continue to criminalize 'homosexual conduct', punishable with prison sentences and hard labour. In five countries the death penalty still applies.

Because they are losing ground in the West, our opponents are increasingly moving their resources (and their rhetoric and their hate) to more fertile grounds in developing countries. American Evangelical Churches are abandoning the fight against equality at home, in favour of supporting homophobic laws abroad. Why fight a losing battle against social liberalism in America or Europe, where you are increasingly ignored and ridiculed, when in Uganda, Belize or Nigeria you are welcomed with open arms. In this perverse way the successes of the LGBT movement in the North, and in particular in the United States, have acted to worsen conditions in the South.

...

As the champagne corks are popped in London and Paris, and we notch up yet more victories for LGBT people in the West, countless setbacks, reversals and outrages occur elsewhere. The Ugandan parliament continues to flirt with introducing the death penalty and imprisoning parents for not turning in their own gay children to the authorities. This week in Cameroon a prominent gay activist was tortured and beaten to death.

And in Russia, President Putin signed a law that bans the so-called 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,' with Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus and Hungary attempting to implement similar restrictions.

Stewart goes on to say that LGBT persons and allies should remember that "in many places, there is far more at stake than embossed invitations or a gift register."

Indeed, as we celebrate the successes at home, we should never forget that the struggle for equality and basic human rights continues elsewhere.

Complacency, like silence, equals death. 


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