Michel Togue, the man’s attorney, says this sort of thing happens all the in the west African nation, where having gay sex can land a person up to five years behind bars. He told ThinkProgress that he has defended dozens of men and women “accused” of being gay, most of whom were never actually caught in the act of having sex.
Togue explained that in Cameroon, many innocent people have been accused of homosexuality by neighbors, family members or scorned ex-lovers looking to settle scores. Once an accusation is made, police make arrests based on how individuals present themselves. For example, if somebody has a job that doesn’t fit their gender, such as a male hairdresser, it could be used as evidence of homosexuality.
“To catch people having sex, to catch them in the act, you have to break the law. You have to violate their privacy, which is an offense,” he said. “But the police will not focus on the offense of breaking the privacy of someone, but they will focus on the fact that they saw two people of the same gender having sex.”
In Tongue’s client’s case, the judge convicted the man for having “feminine mannerisms” and for drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, which he believed should only be consumed by women.
Togue says the growing stigma against being gay is scaring people away getting tested for HIV. “They can’t go to the hospital for the treatment or even for a test because they’re afraid,” he explained. He then recalled a case in which a man told a nurse he had engaged in gay sex and the nurse reported him to police.
Togue says he hopes that people in Cameroon will learn that “a homosexual is our friend, is our brother, is our sister, is part of our family — is not a stranger, not someone coming from outside.”