Amnesty fights for Cameroonian man jailed for three years on charges of being gay

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Thousands of Amnesty International supporters are appealing to the authorities in Cameroon for the immediate release of a man jailed for charges of “homosexuality and attempted homosexuality”.

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede was arrested in March by members of Cameroon’s security service while meeting an acquaintance. Prior to their meeting, the acquaintance had shown to the police text messages he had received from Mr Mbede.

Mr Mbede was then taken into custody on suspicion of being gay. He was held at the Gendarmerie du Lac detention centre in the capital, Yaoundé.

A week later he was charged with homosexuality and attempted homosexuality and transferred to Kondengui central prison on 9 March.

On 28 April, Mr Mbede was found guilty of the aforementioned charges and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

He is currently serving his sentence at Kondengui central prison where he is at risk of homophobic attacks from fellow inmates and prison staff owing to his sexual orientation, whether it is real or perceived.

Cameroon is an adamantly homophobic country and the arrests, prosecutions and trials of gay men occur regularly, say Amnesty International.

Section 347a of the Cameroonian penal code states: “Whoever has sexual relations with a person of the same sex shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years and with a fine ranging from 20,000 Francs CFA to 200,000 Francs CFA” (approximately £21 to £215).

This contravenes the international and regional human rights treaties (including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights) which Cameroon has signed and ratified.

Amnesty International’s LGBT Campaign Manager Clare Bracey said:

“Locking someone up for their real or perceived sexual orientation is a flagrant breach of basic rights and should not be allowed under any country’s penal code. Because of the state’s intolerance to homosexuality and the general social attitude, homophobia is rife in Cameroon and Amnesty International fears for the safety of Jean-Claude Roger Mbede while he is in prison.

“We’re urging the Cameroonian government to repeal this law under the penal code in accordance with its international human rights obligations, and to immediately and unconditionally release Mr Mbede.”

Prison conditions in Kondengui are harsh, with overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate food.

Mr Mbede’s lawyers are currently appealing against his sentence.