Cameroon jails transgender women for 'attempted homosexuality'

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image copyrightReuters
image captionShakiro has thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube where she is open about her sexuality

Two transgender women in Cameroon have been sentenced to five years in jail for contravening homosexuality laws.

Their lawyers say they were found guilty of "attempting homosexuality" as well as outraging public decency and problems with their ID cards.

One of them is trans celebrity Shakiro, a YouTuber who highlights the problems Cameroon's banned LGBT community faces.

She and her friend Patricia have been in detention since February after their arrest at a restaurant.

Cameroon is among 31 African countries that criminalises gay sex.

"It's a hammer blow. It's the maximum term outlined in the law. The message is clear: homosexuals don't have a place in Cameroon," one of their lawyers, Alice Nkom, who heads the Association for the Defence of Rights of Homosexuals, told the AFP news agency.

Their other lawyer, Richard Tamfu, says the pair will appeal against the verdict as there is no proof that homosexual acts were committed, just suspicion.

'Courageous'

The court in the city of Douala also fined Shakira and Patricia 200,000 CFA francs ($370; £260) each.

If the two are unable to raise the money to pay the penalties, they will face another 12 months in prison on top of their five-year sentence, the BBC's Killian Ngala reports from the capital, Yaoundé.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSome feel that Shakiro has been deliberately targeted because of her celebrity

In 2016 Cameroon strengthened its anti-homosexuality laws, changing the penal code to explicitly outlaw same-sex sexual relations, our reporter says.

There is animosity towards gay and transgender people in Cameroon and they can often be beaten up in public, he says.

Shakiro, who has also been identified as Loïc Njeukam, is unusual for being vocal about such persecution.

She has thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube where she promotes cosmetics and talks openly about her sexuality.

The trial of Shakiro and Patricia, who has also been identified as Roland Mouthe, has been high-profile, with critics saying it is a political decision to prosecute them.

Most horrific stories of LGBT abuse

By Ben Hunte, BBC News

Lawyers for Shakiro and Patricia have told me that that the trans women continue to struggle in prison. Patricia says that she is threatened every day and she is scared for her life.

I've been reporting on LGBT lives across the world for the past few years, and the experiences of LGBT people in Cameroon are consistently some of the most horrific stories I hear.

In February alone, there were three brutal murders of LGBT Cameroonians, and at least 27 arrests.

I've heard from people who have attempted suicide, because of being blackmailed and "outed" as their sexuality or gender identity. In almost all of the cases, there are family issues at the centre, and a real sense of shame around being associated with LGBT people.

All human rights organisations associated with the arrests of Shakiro and Patricia believe that Cameroon's laws have been abused.

Especially because, they say, the charge of "attempted homosexuality" does not apply in this case, as the two trans women were not caught in any sexual situation - they were just having dinner.

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