Two trans women who were convicted of “attempted homosexuality” in Cameroon are to be freed from prison until a court appeal in September.
Shakiro, a celebrity in Cameroon with hundreds of thousands of social media followers, and her friend Patricia were arrested on 8 February for wearing women’s clothes in a restaurant.
In May, they were each sentenced to five years in prison, fines of 200,000 CFA francs for “attempted homosexuality,” public indecency and failing to carry identification.
On Tuesday (13 July) a judge ordered them both released from prison, after uproar from human rights activists who denounced their arrests and the growing hostility towards LGBT+ people in Cameroon. In April, Human Rights Watch said their arrests were part of “an overall uptick in police action” against sexual minorities in Cameroon.
Alice Nkom, the lawyer representing Shakiro and Patricia, told Reuters that she expected both women to be released by Friday morning (16 July). “They are going to leave this prison hell where they don’t belong and where they risked extreme violence every day,” Nkom told Reuters.
“We are not going to stop there. We must explain to people that a court must never again convict LGBT people in this way.”
Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon
Homosexuality is illegal in more than 30 African countries, with most anti-LGBT+ laws introduced when those countries were colonised by European nations and yet to be repealed.
In Cameroon it carries a sentence of five years, and a culture of fear has gripped the LGBT+ community in recent years. Local law enforcement raid out-of-sight queer bars, arresting and even torturing those inside.
Meanwhile, lesbian women are accused of witchcraft, made to drink animal blood, chained up and gang-raped to “cleanse” them of their sexuality.
And these cruel crackdowns are only rising, activists warn, with vigilante executions, beatings being commonplace and tolerated by the authorities, according to GLAAD.
“We have observed a resurgence in homophobic attacks this year,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“It is common for people to be abused in detention.”