Nearly 25,000 people have signed an AllOut.org petition asking the Cameroon President and Minister of Justice to reverse the decision to jail Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé for three years and to put a moratorium on the laws that sent him to jail in the first place.
Roger was arrested last year for sending another man a text message that said, "I'm very much in love w/u." He was charged and convicted under Cameroon's law that criminalizes "homosexual behavior" and sentenced to three years in prison. He's spent more than a year in jail, while being subjected to abuse in custody, but is now finally appealing his conviction. Roger's hearing is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 17.
"I found myself in handcuffs being treated like a criminal. I spent a week after I was arrested being tortured and insulted every day," explained Roger. "Now, my family says I'm dangerous and they cannot live with a homosexual. Cameroonians know who I am now. I don't know how I will even be able to go back to school and get a job."
"We're seeing more and more young people, like Roger, whose lives are destroyed because they're accused of the 'crime' of homosexuality," said Alice N'kom, a Cameroonian attorney renowned for her support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Cameroon. "Because Roger's decided not to hide who he is, he's faced extreme violence and even death threats. ... These homophobic laws must be repealed, as soon as possible."
"A case like Roger's makes it crystal clear how much harm these anti-gay laws can cause," said AllOut.org's Executive Director, Andre Banks.
The global movement has been working with N'kom and other Cameroonian activists for the past year to address the rampant levels of homophobia in the country.
"If someone like Roger can be tossed in jail for sending a text message to another man, how can gay and lesbian Cameroonians fight for their basic human rights without fear of attacks or prison?" Andre asked. "Cameroon's leaders need to start now and start with Roger, to end this shameful abuse."
Life remains difficult for anyone even suspected of being gay in Cameroon. At least 20 Cameroonians have been arrested in the last year on suspicions that they are gay or lesbian. And last month an anti-gay group in Yaoundé attempted to hold a march celebrating homophobia, and the Archbishop of Yaoundé made public statements that homosexuality is "shameful" and "an affront to the family, enemy of women and creation." The prevalent anti-gay attitudes in Cameroon are reinforced by the stigma of homosexuality being a crime, creating additional abuse and barriers in people's day-to-day lives.
Despite the challenges, there is a growing movement within Cameroon and in many other African nations rejecting the notion that homosexuality is un-African. Last month human-rights leaders from more than eight countries in Africa, including Cameroon, signed a declaration to President Paul Biya, asking him to put an end to the anti-gay crackdown in his country and to bring an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality.
"This is the right moment for us to call on President Biya to stand up for equality, discharge Roger, and revoke anti-gay laws in Cameroon," added N'Kom.
The petition can be found at www.allout.org/Roger.