Human rights groups have slammed the conviction of a Cameroonian man to three years in jail for being gay, and demanded that it be overturned.

According to Human Rights Watch and Association pour la Defense de l’Homosexualitè (ADEFHO), Roger Jean-Claude Mbede sent an acquaintance a text message and arranged to meet him on March 2nd.

When he arrived at the meeting place, he found his acquaintance in the company of policemen, who took him into custody.

The police questioned Mbede who admitted that he was gay. He was held for seven days at the Gendarmerie du SED Yaoundé before he was charged and transferred to Yaoundé Central Prison.

Mbede made three appearances at the Court of First Instance in Yaoundé and on April 28, was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison.

Under Cameroonian law, a person who engages in “sexual relations with a person of the same sex” can face a prison term of up to five years but activists say that the law is in contravention of Cameroon’s own constitution.

“This law criminalises consensual sexual conduct and violates the fundamental rights to privacy, equality, and freedom of expression of all Cameroonians,” said Alice Nkom of ADEFHO.

“The fear and stigma attached to homosexuality is such that the police use the mere existence of the law to trap individuals with impunity. And courts convict those accused even in the absence of evidence.”

“A prison term can be life-threatening for inmates, particularly those who are presumed to be homosexual,” said Dipika Nath of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

“Cameroon’s police, judges, and other government officials are allowing their prejudices against lesbians and gay men to override legal standards they have sworn to uphold.”

Mbede is currently serving his sentence at Yaoundé Central Prison.

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