Cameroon jails men over gay sex

Men holding hands Homosexual acts are banned in many African countries

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Three men in Cameroon have been sentenced to five years in prison for homosexual acts, which are illegal in the central African nation.

Two of the accused were in court in the capital, Yaounde, but a third man was sentenced in absentia as he had jumped bail.

Police said the men were arrested for having oral sex in a car.

They denied the allegations and their lawyer Alice Nkom told the BBC they were arrested for looking feminine.

"How can people be jailed just for dressing like women?" she said, adding that her clients would appeal.

"This is really an embarrassment for Cameroon," said Ms Nkom who also runs Cameroon's Association for the Defence of Homosexuals.

At the start of the trial, she told the BBC the case was a "crime of fashion, not homosexuality".

The BBC's Randy Joe Sa'ah in Yaounde says homophobia is widespread in Cameroon, as in most African countries.

'Homophobic innuendos'

Start Quote

Amnesty International considers these men to be prisoners of conscience who are being punished solely because of their perceived sexual orientation”

End Quote Jean-Eric Nkurikiye Amnesty's Central Africa campaigner

He says as well as the five-year jail term, the men were each fined 200,000 CFA francs (about $400; £260) - both the maximum penalties for homosexual acts in Cameroon.

One of men's other lawyers, Michel Togue, said it was a bad ruling and he accused the judge of peppering the hearing with homophobic innuendos, AFP news agency reports.

The two men who were in court were denied bail in August. The third defendant was granted bail after their arrest in July and never appeared in court for the trial.

Amnesty International has said Cameroon's homosexuality law is draconian and discriminatory and should be scrapped.

"Amnesty International considers these men to be prisoners of conscience who are being punished solely because of their perceived sexual orientation," Amnesty's Central Africa campaigner Jean-Eric Nkurikiye told the BBC in a statement.

"The use of criminal law to punish private sexual activity between consenting adults contravenes international human rights laws that Cameroon has signed and ratified."

Our reporter says it is not common for men to be taken to court over homosexual acts but in March, a man was jailed for three years on such charges.

Homosexual acts are banned in most African countries. In neighbouring Nigeria, MPs are currently debating proposed legislation to tighten homosexuality laws, including a ban on same-sex marriages.

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