Cameroon: Authorities ‘shut down gay rights workshop’

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A gay rights workshop in Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé, was shut down last week by authorities after it was discovered the human rights under discussion were relating to sexuality, Human Rights Watch said today.

Activists had sought and secured permission to hold an event on human rights and health at the Yaoundé Hotel, but authorities reportedly revoked it when they discovered gay rights would be discussed.

Stéphane Koche, an activist and convener of the event was arrested and released without charge three hours later.

Boris Dittrich, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch said: “Cameroonians have the right to freedom of assembly and expression, even if their viewpoints are not popular in the eyes of the authorities.

“Shutting down a workshop and detaining an activist is no way for Yaoundé authorities to treat people who have come together to talk about human rights.”

The event was coordinated by three groups: Adolescents against AIDS (SID’ADO), Collective des Familles des Enfants Homosexuel-le-s (Collective of Families of Gay and Lesbian Children) and Association pour la Défense de Homosexuel-le-s, (Association for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians, ADEFHO.

In November 2011, ADEFHO’s founder Alice Nkom told of her efforts to acquit Cameroonians prosecuted under the country’s anti-gay laws.

Among those present at the event were representatives of the US and German embassies in Cameroon, Human Rights Watch said.

Police and civilian authorities, including the prefect of Mfoundi and the Yaoundé sub-prefect who had given permission for the meeting believing it to be a discussion on HIV/AIDS and not illegal homosexuality, dispersed participants.

A participant told Human Rights Watch: “They said it was illegal to talk about homosexuality because homosexuality is illegal.”

A Justice Ministry official said he was not aware of the incident.

Mr Dittrich added: “Using Cameroon’s disputed sodomy law as a pretext to prohibit discussion of sexual rights is unfair and extreme, compounding one human rights violation with another.

“The Cameroonian authorities should apologize to the workshop organizers and permit them to hold this workshop and others, safely and peacefully.

In Uganda earlier this year, the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, was reportedly accompanied by police to shut down a similar LGBT rights workshop.

Saying the event was illegal, rights activists were expelled from the hotel and threatened with force.