René M’s boarded up café (Pic: Erin Royal Brokovitch / Erasing 76 Crimes)

The criminalisation of homosexuality and its associated fear and social stigma don’t just affect LGBT people, but are often used to scapegoat and target anyone for any number of reasons.

This is illustrated by a distributing report that villagers in Cameroon have made up accusations of homosexuality against a man, apparently in order to steal his land.

According to an article by LGBT activist Erin Royal Brokovitch (not his real name) published by Erasing 76 Crimes, the man – René M – bought a small piece of land in the village of Leboudi, near Yaoundé, in 2012, on which he opened a café.

Since then, he’s been the target of repeated dangerous accusations that he is gay.

As a result, over the last two years he’s spent six days in jail, has been attacked and beaten and has had to face off against an angry machete-wielding mob.

It later came to light that the people behind the rumours were former owners of the land who want to reclaim it. A young man who accused René of making advances towards him has also admitted in front of a regional leader that his claim was fabricated.

The victim continues to live in Leboudi but is too afraid to re-open his café and moves around the village through hidden paths rather than using main roads.

Brokovitch writes that René’s “opponents continue to threaten him and say they won’t leave him in peace as long as he and his homosexual ‘demon’ remain in Leboudi.”

Same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Cameroon, with penalties of up to five years imprisonment. The country is said to have the highest rate of conviction of LGBT people in the world. In February it was reported that there were at least 20 people languishing in prison in Cameroon on homosexuality charges.

René’s sexuality is ultimately incidental to the tragic story. His frightening experience shows that ignorance and discriminatory policies can be manipulated and used against anyone. When it comes to gay hate-mongering no-one is safe.

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