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Abuses of LGBTQ People Increasing in Cameroon: Rights Activists

Cameroonian police officers check a truck in Buea on Oct, 7, 2018. Human Rights Watch says police often target sexual minorities for abuse.

Human Rights Watch said in a report this week that LGBTQ people are suffering a fresh wave of persecution in Cameroon, where same-sex relations are illegal.

The group said in February, police detained 12 youths in the eastern town of Bertoua for homosexuality, beat them and locked them in a police station.

They were released the same day without charge.

In the western town of Bafoussam, the rights group said police detained 13 people, including seven staff of Colibri, a group that provides HIV prevention and treatment.

Colibri said police beat at least three of them and forced one of them to undergo a humiliating anal examination before they were also released.

Human Rights Watch central Africa researcher Ilaria Allegrozzi said Cameroonian police often target sexual minorities for abuse.

"We documented how the police and the gendarmes arrested, beat, threatened, humiliated LGBT people and subjected some of them to intrusive, humiliating anal exams, which are of no scientific value whatsoever, but have been unfortunately and regularly carried out to prosecute LGBT people,” Allegrozzi said.

The rights group’s report indicates Cameroon’s police tend to target public gatherings of LGBTQ people, even small ones.

It comes as two transgender women, one a social media celebrity, face up to five years in prison when they appear in a Cameroon court on April 26.

Douala police detained Loic Njeukam, known as Shakiro, and Roland Mouth in February for wearing women’s clothing while eating at a restaurant.

They pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted homosexuality.

Tamfu Richard, one of their lawyers, said, "The Cameroonian penal code is very severe on same sex orientations. That is why you see LGBT persons in Cameroon face this abuse of their rights and they have to be in hiding for fear of being faced with the repression of the justice system. The tracking of LGBT persons is on the rise. A lot of people are being dragged before the court over offenses of homosexuality and public indecency."

Richard said targeting of LGBTQ people in Cameroon intensified after neighboring Gabon last year legalized same-sex relations.

Cameroonian police and officials declined to comment when asked about the increasing attacks on LGBTQs.

Despite slow acceptance in parts of the continent, many Africans see homosexuality as a Western import.

Homosexual sex is illegal in more than half of sub-Saharan African countries.

But activists, like Human Rights Watch’s Allegrozzi, point out that being an LGBTQ person is not.

"We ask the government to decriminalize same-sex conduct and repeal the law, which currently not only violates the Cameroonian constitution but also international law," Allegrozzi said.

Three Cameroonian lawmakers contacted declined to comment, citing fear of official reprisal for discussing the sensitive issue.

Human Rights Watch said it shared its findings with Cameroon’s government in a letter March 25 and requested answers to specific questions. Cameroonian officials have yet to respond.