Cameroon transgender sentence exposes LGBTQ community to threats

By Leocadia Bongben

The future looks bleak for the Cameroon LGBTQ community generally following a five-year jail term of two transgender persons, Njeukam Loic Midrel aka Shakiro, and accomplice, Mouthe Roland aka Patricia, for ‘attempted homosexuality’.

LGBTQ persons have faced harassment in Cameroon, but this is the first time a popular transgender person with more than 5,000 followers on Facebook and YouTube has been detained for, “attempted homosexuality, indecent dressing and lack of identification papers.”

Shakiro with a huge YouTube following indicated that he felt good as a woman in one of his posts.

The sentence attracted huge media reports.  African Women in Dialogue started an online campaign to free Shakiro.

The verdict has brought about fear and increased threats in the LGBTQ community, (whom we name CM for his security) a member, 25 years old, expressed concerns for his safety, in a phone interview.

‘We are exposed to insults, and violence, and deprived of free movement, making life difficult for us. We are not as joyful as before, we are hiding”, he said on the phone.

He adds the situation is traumatizing, making us feel isolated because of the hate from the homophobic Cameroonian community.

“The hate environment is a threat to our lives coming from reactions after the condemnation of Shakiro and Patricia. We don’t feel like normal people, we need help to get out of this country,” CM said.

It was not until she left Cameroon that a famous LGBTQ rights defender, Bandi Kiki could openly express her sexuality, she told the BBC in a radio interview.

The arrest and detention

Shakiro, 23, and Patricia, 27 were arrested and imprisoned on February 8, in a restaurant in Cameroon’s economic capital.

After four months of hearings and adjournments, the verdict was pronounced.

The Court of First Instance on May 11, sentenced Shakiro and Patricia to a five-year prison term and a $370 fine.

If they fail to honour this financial obligation, they will serve another 12 years in prison.

The ruling has been termed a violation of human rights thus attracting international condemnation from rights groups and conversation overflowing on social media.

According to Barrister Alice Nkom, a human rights lawyer, and defense counsel for Shakiro and Patricia, “Which law punishes trans for wearing a skirt for five years?

Nobody should be imprisoned for a simple suspicion; this opens the door to imprisonment without proof”?

The Cameroonian law criminalizes same-sex relations and not homosexuality, Barrister Alice Nkom said.

Article 347 of the Cameroon penal code is titled ‘homosexuality ’- punishes from six months to five years with a fine of FCFA 20 to FCFA 200,000 same-sex persons in a sexual act, she added.

International rights groups, like Human Rights Watch, condemned the sentence, calling on the government to release Shakiro and Patricia immediately and revoke the sentence.

The US embassy in Cameroon says the government should ensure that individuals enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In 2016 Cameroon tightened its law by including the article on homosexuality in the penal code.

The BBC reported, that in February, there were three murders of LGBTQ persons and 27 arrests in Cameroon.

Though there have been issues of shame around the families of LGBTQ persons, Shakiro’s father, Njuekam a retired civil servant, has accepted his son and has been supportive.

“My son does not deserve this kind of punishment, he has not done anything wrong to be locked behind bars”, the father said in a phone interview.

Case Appealed

Shakiro and Patricia have appealed the sentence, the file is to move to the Appeal Court for the hearing to begin, Barrister Richard Tamfu said.

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