On May 11, a Cameroonian court sentenced two transgender women to five years in prison and fines of 200,000 CFA (USD $370) under a law that forbids same-sex relations. The women, Njeuken Loic (known as “Shakiro”) and Mouthe Roland (known as “Patricia”), should never have been arrested and have already experienced abuse in pre-trial detention. For trans women, five years in a Cameroonian men’s prison can amount to a death sentence. The authorities should release them and vacate the charges immediately.
Gendarmes arrested Shakiro and Patricia off the streets in the city of Douala on February 8, for wearing typically female clothing. They interrogated the women without a lawyer present, beat and threatened to kill them, taunted them with anti-LGBT epithets, and forced them to sign statements, according to activists and lawyers who visited them in detention. Shakiro and Patricia were later taken to the overcrowded Douala central prison where they reported being beaten and insulted by guards and other inmates. Prosecutors charged them with attempted homosexual conduct, public indecency, and non-possession of their national identity cards. Alice Nkom, a lawyer representing Shakiro and Patricia, said, “It’s a political sentence sending a clear, chilling message: ‘We don’t want LGBT people here in Cameroon.’ We ought to fight this and we will.”
In the last year, Cameroonian security forces have increasingly targeted people for arbitrary arrestbased on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Between February and April 2021 security forces arrested at least 27 people, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity, beating and subjecting some to forced anal examinations.
Human Rights Watch has documented extensive human rights violations in arrests and prosecutionsduring previous anti-LGBT crackdowns in Cameroon, including the use of forced anal examinations and other forms of torture and ill-treatment, forced confessions, denial of access to counsel, and blatant anti-LGBT bias on the part of judges. We also documented rape and beatings of LGBT people by detainees in Cameroon’s prisons, undeterred by guards.
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. Cameroon should repeal its anti-homosexuality laws and stop interfering in Cameroonians’ private lives.