Amnesty International has condemned the sentencing of three men in Cameroon to five years in prison by a court in Yaounde on charges of homosexuality .

It called on the Cameroonian authorities to immediately release the two men who were present in court. A third man was sentenced without being present after he apparently jumped bail.

The men were arrested in July after police alleged they were caught in a sexual act in a car.

“The Yaounde court must overturn this shocking sentence, which punishes these three men solely on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s director for Africa.

“People accused of such crimes in Cameroon often face abuse and violence from other detainees or prison officers in detention. The two men must be released immediately and the Cameroonian authorities must repeal the country’s discriminatory anti-homosexuality laws,” he added.

In addition to the five-year prison sentence, the maximum sentence for homosexual acts in Cameroon, the men, only known as Francky, Jonas and Hilaire, were each fined 200,000 CFA francs ($400). Their lawyer has appealed against the sentence.

Amnesty International considers the two men to be prisoners of conscience who are being punished solely because of their perceived sexual orientation.

Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon and the country has recently seen a wave of anti-gay persecution.

At least ten individuals in Yaounde and Douala have been arrested under the discriminatory anti-gay laws since March this year. One man, Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on 28 April.

At least six others, arrested in July and August 2011, remain in custody, while three men were arrested and then released.

“The use of criminal law to punish private sexual activity between consenting adults goes directly against international human rights laws that Cameroon has signed and ratified,” said van der Borght.

“The government must take steps to end detentions, arrests and harassment of individuals on the grounds of their perceived or real sexual identity.”

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