The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has reported that the Cameroonian government has refused to release nine men jailed on charges of homosexuality despite their April 21 acquittal. In a further travesty of justice, the government is forcing the men to stand trial again. The men have been detained in Kondegui Prison in YaoundÃ© for nearly a year.
At their initial trial, no witnesses were called and no proof offered by the prosecution, so Judge Tonye, the magistrate overseeing the case, declared the men innocent of all charges. The men were expected to be quickly released from prison but the prosecutor’s office has refused to order their release and has said that the men will be retried.
“You arrest people unfairly, violate their rights for almost a year, and then refuse to release them — this constitutes an abuse of power,” Duga Titanji, the men’s attorney in Cameroon, told IGLHRC. “This development constitutes a major violation of due process. With no new arrest warrant being served, this is now a blatant case of arbitrary detention.”
The IGLHRC was alerted to the arrests of the men within days of its occurrence on May 21, 2005 and arranged for Mr. Titanji to take their case. Local and international human rights advocates have repeatedly demanded the unconditional release of the nine men to both Cameroonian and United Nations officials, and have provided emergency assistance to help the men survive the harsh conditions of their detention.
Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that, “No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted. The men could face sentences of up to five years in prison for being gay.
“This is nothing more than double jeopardy. The Cameroonian government has upended the entire judicial process in this case and is showing blatant disregard for legal procedures,” stated Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Coordinator for Africa at IGLHRC. “We will work with Cameroonian activists to confront this brazen abuse in the courts and at the national and international diplomatic levels.”
The case has its origins on the 21st of May 2005, when 17 men were arrested at a nightclub believed to be frequented by gays and lesbians. A number of men were released ostensibly due to lack of evidence, ultimately leaving nine in prison. Many were abandoned by their families due to publicity related to the case.
On March 17, 2006, at the opening of the trial, the prosecution seemed ill prepared and had no witnesses to present. Rather than dismissing the case, the judge postponed the trial until April 21, 2006.
On April 21, a trial was convened, but the prosecution again produced no witnesses and no proof of the charges against the nine men. A verdict of not guilty was delivered by Magistrate Tonye.