Same-sex acts are illegal in the conservative west-central African country of Cameroon, which explains why Jonas Kumie and Frankie Djome were convicted in November 2011 and sentenced to five years in prison for “looking gay,” reports the BBC.
The two men who have already served over a year’s time in prison were arrested for allegedly having oral sex in a car, according to police. The pair vehemently denied the allegations against them and their lawyer, Alice Nkom argues that they were cuffed for merely looking feminine. Nkom, who sits at the helm of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals in Cameroon, has stated that the case was a “crime of fashion, not homosexuality.”
“How can people be jailed just for dressing like women?” Nkom said, adding, “This is really an embarrassment for Cameroon.”
Homophobia is widespread not only in Cameroon but throughout most African countries; jailing men or women who indulge in same-sex acts is not uncommon on the continent.
Amnesty International, a human-rights organization, has stepped in to this case and has considered the men to be “prisoners of conscience,” who were placed behind bars solely because of their “perceived sexual orientation,” according to Amnesty’s Central Africa campaigner Jean-Eric Nkurikiye who told the BBC in a statement.
Not only were Kumie and Djome imprisoned, but they were also denied bail and fined 200,000 CFA francs ($400). While in jail, the men have been reportedly subjected to degrading treatment by not only by other prisoners but by the guards themselves.
The ruling will hopefully create enough of a global tempest so that the country’s President Paul Biya will consider releasing other prisoners who have been unjustly placed behind bars for breaking the country’s draconian and discriminatory homosexuality laws.
Only last month, a Cameroon court upheld a five-year prison term for Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, 32, and a university philosophy student who was arrested in March 2011. During his detention, police reportedly beat him until he reportedly confessed to three other relationships with men he named to authorities for investigation. Mbede was found guilty in a court of law for sending another man a text message that said, “I love you,” and was sent to prison in June 2011, where he was reportedly abused until his health deteriorated.