By DIVINE NTARYIKE
More than 100 young men and women in Cameroon’s capital posted anti-gay signs on bars suspected of being gay-friendly during a rally organized amid mounting threats and acts of violence targeting the country’s sexual minorities.
The rally organized Wednesday by the Association of Cameroonian Youth called for stricter enforcement of anti-gay laws, even though rights groups say the country already prosecutes more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents than any other in sub-Saharan Africa.
Demonstrators also placed signs saying “Homosexuals Forbidden” and “No Gays in Cameroon” on various school buildings.
Moving in four groups of about 40 people each, the demonstrators paraded Cameroon’s greed, red and yellow flag through the streets of Yaounde while distributing pamphlets and T-shirts with anti-gay slogans. They occasionally paused to speak to onlookers about what they described as the dangers of homosexuality.
“A society without morals and ethics is a lost society. What’s accepted in the West is not necessarily good for everyone,” read one pamphlet. “Homosexuality is a crime against humanity and a serious violation of human rights.”
An organizer of the event, dubbed the “Day Against Homosexuality,” said it was intended to honor the memory of a 31-year-old student who was “sodomized and killed by homosexuals” in August 2006 at a Yaounde hotel.
“It is a struggle to push the authorities to clearly assert our rejection of homosexuality as a nation, and to increase the punishment,” said the organizer, Sismondi Barley Bidjocka.
Homosexual acts are punishable by up to five years in prison in Cameroon. In a March report, Human Rights Watch said charges had been brought against at least 28 people under the law in the last three years.
Bidjocka said the Association of Cameroonian Youth was calling for authorities to increase the maximum sentence to 20 years in jail.
Last month, prominent Cameroonian gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe was tortured and killed in Yaounde in an attack his friends suspect was related to his activism. He was the most high-profile African LGBT rights activists to be killed in two years. No arrests have been made in the case.
In the weeks since Lembembe’s killing, a number of gay rights activists have received threatening text messages, said Michel Togue, one of the few lawyers in the country who will defend people charged under the country’s anti-gay law.
Last week, two transgender women who have previously been prosecuted for homosexuality in Cameroon were attacked by a mob in Yaounde before being rescued by local police, Togue said.
Togue said the government appeared to be in favor of Wednesday’s rally because large-scale gatherings must have government approval or risk being broken up. A government spokesman could not be reached Wednesday.
“I have the impression that the persecution of homosexuals is sharply on the rise since Lembembe was murdered. A demonstration like the one today is clear proof,” Togue said. “If I tell you I’m not scared, then I’m joking. I’m scared for my security.”