Human Rights groups have highlighted attacks on people suspected of being gay by police, politicians, the media, and even their own communities in Cameroon.

The perilously homophobic environment faced by gays and lesbians in the African country is documented in a new report titled Criminalizing Identities: Rights Abuses in Cameroon Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The 62-page report details how the government denies basic rights to people perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

The report describes arrests, beatings by the police, abuses in prison, and a homophobic atmosphere that encourages shunning and abuse in the community. The consequence is that people are not punished for a specific outlawed practice, but for a homosexual identity, the groups said.

“The poor and the young, who often have no way to get legal assistance, suffer the most from Cameroon’s abusive atmosphere,” said Steave Nemande, president of Alternatives-Cameroun.

“Even after they get out of jail, families and friends often reject them. They are denied education, jobs, even a place to live. Their lives are ruined.”

The report, based on 45 interviews with victims, documents abuse by police, including beatings on the victims’ bodies and even the soles of their feet. It claims that prison guards ignore abuses by other prisoners, including beatings, rapes, and urinating and defecating on the victims’ possessions.

Those arrested under article 347 of the penal code are routinely held without charge in excess of the minimum time allowed by Cameroonian law, the groups said. Judges may sentence them to prison time without credible evidence that they engaged in a homosexual act. Even when judges have dismissed charges, prosecutors have sometimes charged the accused again before they could be freed.

According to the report, prejudice and discrimination against the gay and lesbian population of Cameroon is pervasive.

The media in Cameroon compound the repressive climate, the groups said. Newspapers have published the names of those purported to be gay and invented the term “homocraty” to promote fear and hatred of people who engage in same-sex relations, depicting them as power-hungry, corrupt, rich, and intent on controlling the country.

“Lesbian, gays, and bisexuals in Cameroon are considered lower than dogs,” said Sébastien Mandeng of l’Association pour la défense des droits des homosexuels. “They face great injustice because of homophobia.”

Alternatives-Cameroun submitted a petition with more than 1,500 signatures to the National Assembly in November 2009 calling for the decriminalisation of same-sex relations. However, the National Assembly has not yet considered introducing the topic into official discussion.

“The criminalisation of same-sex conduct has consequences beyond the obvious unacceptable arrests,” said Monica Mbaru, African coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“It drives inequality within the justice system itself and promotes violence within people’s homes, families, and communities. The government of Cameroon needs to accept responsibility to ensure all Cameroonians live free of discrimination, whatever their orientation or identity.”

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