Ten women arrested in Cameroon for being lesbian

By IndepthAfrica
In Cameroon
Feb 24th, 2012
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Ten women have been arrested in Cameroon on suspicion of being lesbians.

They have been detained in Ambam, some 190 miles south of the capital of Yaounde, until they go on trial, Cameroon Radio Television reported.

Consensual same-gender sex is considered criminal in the West African nation and punishable by a jail sentence from six months to five years and a fine.

Gay rights defender and founder of the Association for the Defence of Homosexuals, Alice Nkom, says detainees in Cameroon are frequently tortured in police stations to force them confess.

It comes as another African country, Liberia, prepares to consider a bill to strengthen its own existing anti-gay laws.

Liberia’s former first lady, Senator Jewel Taylor, submitted a bill last week that would prohibit same-sex marriage and make homosexuality a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

She said: ‘We are only strengthening the existing law. Some media are reporting that I said anyone found guilty of involvement in same sex should face the death penalty.

‘I did not say so. I am calling for a law that will make it a first degree felony,’ she said.

 

The current law considers gay relationships a first-degree misdemeanour, which carries a punishment of up to a year in prison.

‘We are looking at it critically’ and will put it before the entire Senate ‘during our next sitting on Thursday’, Senator Joseph Nagbe, chair of the Judicial Committee, said.

Outlawed: Same-gender sex can be punishable by up to five years in prison in CameroonOutlawed: Same-gender sex can be punishable by up to five years in prison in Cameroon

If passed by the Senate, the strengthened bill would then go the House and then the president.

Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, has said she will not sign any such bill into law.

‘Liberia is a member of the global community and therefore cannot kick against the rights of others to do what they choose to do,’ said Archie Ponpon, chairman of the newly-formed gay rights advocacy group the Movement for the Defence of Gays and Lesbians in Liberia.

Mr Ponpon and his family have already faced hostility because of his fight for gay rights in Liberia.

Weeks ago, his mother’s house was set on fire and he and another advocate, Abraham Kamara, were mobbed by angry students while campaigning at the University of Liberia.

‘We will not relent,’ he said. ‘People will come to the realisation that in this day and age, individuals should be free to practice what they wish.’

A wave of intense homophobia has been washing across Africa in the past few years, where homosexuality is already illegal in many countries.

‘It’s getting worse,’ Cameroon gay rights defender Ms Nkom said of homophobia.

‘People accused of homosexuality are put in jail straight away,’ she told reporters in November after three men were each sentenced to five years in prison for homosexual acts.

Earlier this month, Uganda re-introduced a bill that would make the death sentence mandatory for gays who are ‘repeat offenders’.

U.S. President Barack Obama denounced the bill as ‘odious’, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to reject it and some international donors threatened to cut aid if it became law.

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