Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon

Authorities in Yaoundé, Cameroon have illegally shut down a workshop on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and arrested one of the workshop organisers, reported Human Rights Watch on Thursday.

The workshop had apparently been authorised by the local sub-prefect, an administrative official, in accordance with Cameroonian law.

However, the sub-prefect revoked his authorisation as the event was beginning when he realised that the “human rights” to be discussed included the rights of sexual minorities.

Police arrested Stéphane Koche, an activist working with the convening organisations, and detained him for three hours before releasing him without charge.

“Cameroonians have the right to freedom of assembly and expression, even if their viewpoints are not popular in the eyes of the authorities,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“Shutting down a workshop and detaining an activist is no way for Yaoundé authorities to treat people who have come together to talk about human rights.”

The workshop was to include a range of human rights and professional organisations, including women’s rights groups, AIDS organisations, and groups representing pharmacists, doctors, and lawyers. Representatives of the United States and German embassies were also present.

Participants told Human Rights Watch that shortly after they arrived at the hotel, local youth, described by a participant as “thugs,” arrived. A representative of the Cameroonian Youth Rally – an anti-gay youth organisation with no public authority or policing powers – told participants, “Leave – this meeting is not going to take place.”

Shortly thereafter, police and civilian authorities, including the prefect of Mfoundi and the Yaoundé sub-prefect who had authorised the meeting, arrived and dispersed participants.

“They said it was illegal to talk about homosexuality because homosexuality is illegal,” one participant said.

According to Amnesty International, homophobia is endemic in Cameroonian society and arrests, prosecutions and trials of gay men occur on a regular basis.

In February, a workshop hosted by a LGBT rights group in the Ugandan city of Entebbe, was personally shut down by Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo. He claimed that the group’s activities were against “tradition” and dispersed the 35 participants.

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