Rights activists in Cameroon have condemned a five-year jail sentence given to two transgender women for "attempted homosexuality" and public indecency. A lawyer for the two, who were arrested for wearing women's clothing in a restaurant, say they are preparing an appeal.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch describes the jail sentence issued by the court as harsh.
Police arrested Njeuken Loic, also known as Shakiro, and Mouthe Roland, also known as Patricia, in the coastal city of Douala on February 8. Police said they were wearing typically female clothing while eating in a restaurant.
Prosecutors charged them with attempted homosexual conduct, public indecency, and non-possession of their national identity cards.
They pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted homosexuality.
Tamfu Richard, one of the lawyers defending Shakiro and Patricia, says justice was not done during the trial.
"We consider the decision to be too severe against these accused persons because no evidence was produced before the court to sentence our clients on charges of attempted homosexuality, public indecency, non-possession of ID cards," Richard said. "So our next action will be to file an appeal before the appeal court and we hope that, before the court of appeal, we will be able to make sure justice is done at that level."
HRW said that after Shakiro and Patricia were arrested in February, they were taken to the overcrowded Douala central prison, where they reported being beaten and insulted by guards and other inmates.
Activists say that for transgender women, five years in a Cameroonian men's prison can amount to a death sentence. HRW calls on Cameroon authorities to release Shakiro and Patricia and vacate the charges immediately.
Rights lawyer Alice Nkom says the sentence indicates how LGBTQ people continue to be persecuted in Cameroon. She says the international community should intervene to force Cameroon to respect the rights of its citizens.
"We are waiting to obtain a copy of the (court) decision to know the motivations that allow these results," Nkom said. "We have 10 days to file an appeal and the dateline of doing so expires on May 21. The judge did not apply any attenuating circumstance, neither the numerous violations of the laws, nor the violation of the general principle of law, nor the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court."
HRW says Shakiro and Patricia are the latest victims of a system plagued by absolute disregard for the due process rights of people targeted based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It calls on Cameroon to repeal its anti-homosexuality laws and stop interfering in the private lives of Cameroonians.
Contacted by phone, Cameron's Ministry of Communication and Government spokesperson, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, declined to comment on the sentence.