Protests have marked the start of a trial in Cameroon, over the outing of alleged homosexuals in local newspapers.

Several thousand members of a youth group calling itself Free Youths gathered at the court in Yaounde Tuesday to denounce homosexuality.

Their president, Rufine Djentchou, told VOA she was trying to get people to sign a petition.

"Our association wants here to make a petition where we have to collect one million signatures and these signatures will prove that all the society of Cameroon are against homosexuals. We will not take a rest in our fight against it," she said.

Journalists were also present to show support for the two publications on trial, L'Anecdote and Nouvelle Afrique. One of them was Franklin Sone.

"If they go to prison, they will not regret it," he said. "Homosexuality, you can see the way the public reacted. About every newspaper that carried the story sold out. It's not to say there were millions of copies like in other parts of the world. But Cameroon is a small country. So if a newspaper can print 15,000, 30,000 copies and sell out, you can imagine that's really a very big issue in the public mind that people responded to it in that way."

More than 300 people were outed in three newspapers, starting with La Meteo in mid-January, for alleged homosexuality, which is a crime in Cameroon. The newspapers also claimed men were using sex with other men to advance their careers.

Defense lawyer Jacques Amougou tells VOA it is a trial about morals.

He says the trial will be very interesting since it will pit media rights against a government which, he says, seems little inclined to enforce the country's laws.

Those listed include two ministers, prominent businessmen and artists. Only one is suing so far, a top ruling party official, and government minister, Gregoire Owona, in charge of relations with national assemblies.

His lawyers refused to speak on the record. But journalist Jean-Claude Mbede read a letter that Owona wrote to journalists, denying he is gay.

The minister goes on to say it would be against his religion and education.

The communications minister, Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo, who was also on the lists, says the journalists had no sourcing, and that they will not be able to defend their case. Cameroon's official press watchdog group and the government's Cameroon Media Council have also condemned the articles on the grounds of insufficient ethics.

On Cameroon Youth Day last week, long-time President Paul Biya spoke out against what he called unacceptable reporting of uncontrolled rumors. On the other side of the debate, Cameroon's Roman Catholic bishop Victor Tonye Bakot condemned homosexuality and criticized Western governments for expanding gay rights.

The trial pitting the government minister against two newspapers resumes next week.