Yaounde – Cameroon lawyer Alice Nkom, who is known for defending gays and lesbians in a country where homosexuality is outlawed, said on Tuesday that she has been receiving death threats from anonymous callers over her stance.
“Since October 18, I have become the victim of anonymous death threats,” she said, adding that she has been warned to stop defending homosexuals.
“In the beginning, there were calls at 04:00 in the morning. Now they are sending SMSes,” she said, adding that she received the latest text message at 03:00 on Tuesday.
She said one such SMS read: “Lesbian whore, it’s your turn to suffer. Watch your back well as your security is very weak. We will give you a demonstration when the moment comes. No respite for gays in our country.”
Nkom said that the threats also targeted her children, but she vowed that they “cannot discourage me from my fight”.
Ambam – Two women on trial in Cameroon for homosexuality pleaded not guilty on Thursday as their lawyers sought an annulment of the trial over alleged rights abuses.
“Not guilty”, said Esther, 29, and Martine, 26, whose full names are being withheld to protect them in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
The two are charged with “having intercourse with a person of the same sex”.
Their lawyer, gay activist Alice Nkom, asked the court in Ambam in south Cameroon to annul the case as investigators had failed to inform her clients of their right to legal counsel or to remain silent.
“Since this case began, we have been the laughing stock of our town. We are being treated as witches,” Esther told AFP on leaving the courtroom, which was packed with curious onlookers and supporters
“I do not see what they did wrong to deserve this,” onlooker Fabrice Ngningha told AFP.
But another passerby, who refused to give her name, said: “It is not normal that two women sleep together. They must be condemned, as an example to their children.”
Martine has two children and Esther one.
Liberia’s senate to consider anti-gay bill
Monrovia – Liberia’s senate will consider a bill to strengthen the nation’s existing anti-gay laws, a senator said, as another West African nation, Cameroon, announced the arrest of 10 women suspected of being lesbians.
Cameroon Radio Television reported on Thursday that the 10 women are being detained in Ambam, about 300km south of the capital of Yaounde, until they go to trial.
Consensual same-gender sex is considered criminal in Cameroon and punishable by a jail sentence from six months to five years and a fine. Gay rights defender and founder of the Association for the Defence of Homosexuals, Alice Nkom, says detainees in Cameroon are frequently tortured in police stations to force them confess.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s former first lady, Senator Jewel Taylor, submitted a bill last week that would prohibit same-sex marriage and make homosexuality a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“We are only strengthening the existing law,” she said. “Some media are reporting that I said anyone found guilty of involvement in same sex should face the death penalty, I did not say so, I am calling for a law that will make it a first degree felony,” she told the Associated Press.
The current law considers gay relationships a first-degree misdemeanour, which carries a punishment of up to a year in prison.
“We are looking at it critically” and will put it before the entire Senate “during our next sitting on Thursday”, Senator Joseph Nagbe, chairperson of the Judicial Committee, told The Associated Press.
Wave of intense homophobia
If passed by the Senate, the strengthened bill would then go the House and then the president.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, has said she will not sign any such bill into law.
“Liberia is a member of the global community and therefore cannot kick against the rights of others to do what they choose to do,” said Archie Ponpon, chairperson of the newly-formed gay rights advocacy group the Movement for the Defence of Gays and Lesbians in Liberia.
Ponpon and his family have already faced hostility because of his fight for gay rights in Liberia. Weeks ago, his mother’s house was set on fire and he and another advocate, Abraham Kamara, were mobbed by angry students while campaigning at the University of Liberia.
“We will not relent,” he said. “People will come to the realisation that in this day and age, individuals should be free to practice what they wish.”
A wave of intense homophobia has been washing across Africa in the past few years, where homosexuality is already illegal in many countries.
“It’s getting worse,” Cameroon gay rights defender Nkom said of homophobia.
“People accused of homosexuality are put in jail straight away” she told reporters in November after three men were each sentenced to five years in prison for homosexual acts.
International rights groups, including Amnesty International, have frequently lambasted Cameroon’s homosexuality law, demanding its abolition.
But the authorities have turned a deaf ear to such requests. Last year, the government demanded and successfully obtained the withdrawal of grants allocated the Association for the Defence of Homosexuals by the European Union.
Nkom said she has received numerous death threats from fellow lawyers and Cameroonians, as well as a threat from the Ministry of Justice to dismiss her from the country’s roster of legal practitioners.
Contempt for homosexuals has led to anti-gay legal measures elsewhere in Africa. Last year, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of a bill that would criminalize gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection. Two years ago, Ugandan legislators introduced a bill that would impose the death penalty for some gays and lesbians, though it has yet to become law.
In January, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said African nations should stop treating gays as “second-class citizens, or even criminals”. Ban told African leaders that discrimination based on sexual orientation “had been ignored or even sanctioned by many states for far too long”.
Uganda raids gay rights workshop
Kampala – A Ugandan minister on Tuesday raided and shut down a workshop run by homosexual rights activists in Entebbe, Amnesty International reported, days after a draconian anti-gay bill was reintroduced.
The London-based rights watchdog said in a statement that Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo, also a priest, raided the workshop flanked by police and expelled its participants from the Entebbe hotel where it was being held.
“This is an outrageous attempt to prevent lawful and peaceful activities of human rights defenders in Uganda,” Amnesty International said.
Ugandan police spokesperson Asuman Mugenyi said: “Gay activities are illegal activities under our law and our law has not been amended.”
Homosexuality is already punishable by life imprisonment in Uganda but a recently reintroduced bill proposes to toughen the law, notably by criminalising acts aiding or abetting homosexuality.
The bill, which enjoys wide support in the east African country’s parliament, initially envisioned making certain homosexual acts punishable by death.
But the bill’s author, MP David Bahati, said last week after an international outcry that he wanted to drop the death sentence clauses.
Gambia president will cut off gay’s head
Banjul – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Tuesday reiterated his stance that he would never accept homosexuality in his country, after recent pressure from abroad on African states to respect gay rights.
“We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date,” Jammeh said while swearing in 15 ministers of his new government.
“If you think it is human rights to destroy our culture, you are making a great mistake because if you are in the Gambia, you are in the wrong place then,” he added.
In 2008, Jammeh gave an ultimatum to homosexuals to leave the country and vowed to “cut off the head” of any homosexual found in the Gambia.
In the west African nation homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment, for men and women. Jammeh has threatened to introduce even stricter laws.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently told leaders at an African Union summit they must respect gay rights.
“If we Africans are to build our societies based on outside dictates and structure, our cultures based on alien cultures, we will be the losers,” said Jammeh.