Rights group urges Cameroon to release jailed gay men

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Amnesty International on Thursday urged Cameroon to release two men men sentenced  by a court in the capital, Yaounde, to five years in prison for homosexuality. A third man sentenced to the same term had skipped bail.

Many fundamentalist Christians and traditional African leaders oppose homosexuality as "un-African." But Cameroon is emerging as among of the most punitive regimes, having jailed men in the past for homosexuality. The most recent case was in March, when a gay man was jailed for three years, while six other arrested men are in custody awaiting trial.

Morocco has also jailed gay men. Uganda has backed away from a proposed law to punish homosexuality with the death penalty. Nigeria is debating a move to ban same-sex marriage.

But even in South Africa, where same sex-marriage is legal and the constitution guarantees equal rights to all, gay men and women are frequently beaten, killed and raped.

“The Yaounde court must overturn this shocking sentence, which punishes these three men solely on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s director for Africa, in a statement.

“People accused of such crimes in Cameroon often face abuse and violence from other detainees or prison officers in detention. The two men must be released immediately and the Cameroonian authorities must repeal the country’s discriminatory anti-homosexuality laws,” he added.

A lawyer for the men jailed on Tuesday, Alice Nkom, who is a prominent gay rights activist, told the BBC that the men were jailed because they looked like women. The prosecution accused them of having oral sex in a car, a claim the men denied.

-- Robyn Dixon

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