Roger Jean-Claude Mbede

An appeals court in Cameroon has upheld a three year prison sentence meted out to a man who sent another man a romantic SMS.

On Monday, the court refused to reverse university student Roger Jean-Claude Mbede’s criminal conviction for homosexuality.

Mbede, a 32-year-old philosophy student in Yaoundé, was arrested and convicted of homosexuality in March 2011 after sending another man a text message reading, “I’m very much in love with you.”

Mbede told Human Rights Watch that police beat him to extract confessions of prior same-sex relationships.

“The interrogator… called his friend, a gendarme, to beat me. The gendarme punched me in the mouth. He kept hitting me, tore my shirt. They threw away my shoes. When I went to the [prosecutor’s office], I was barefoot, like a bandit,” he said.

A trial court later sentenced Mbede to three years in prison on the basis of the text message and the “confessions”.

In July, after over a year in prison, Mbede was released on bail due to medical reasons while his appeal was in process. The appeals court’s decision on Monday was issued after repeated delays.

A tearful Mbede spoke to The Associated Press by telephone after the verdict. “I am going back to the dismal conditions that got me critically ill before I was temporarily released for medical reasons,” he said.

“I am not sure I can put up with the anti-gay attacks and harassment I underwent at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of my perceived and unproven sexual orientation. The justice system in this country is just so unfair.”

Mbede had no legal representation at his first trial, and he told Human Rights Watch that the judge shouted at him and insulted him when he tried to approach the bar to respond to the allegations against him. He was represented by a lawyer, Michel Togue, in his appeal hearing.

According to Togue, the appeals court has not yet provided an explanation for its decision.

“The appeals court decision against Roger Mbede is a blow to key human rights principles, including the right to privacy, the right to equality, and the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment,” said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

“The decision sends a warning to LGBT Cameroonians that they risk beatings, arrests, and imprisonment simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Cameroon under section 347 of the penal code with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.

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