Police in Cameroon reportedly raided a club and movie theater just after midnight Saturday morning, arresting 25 men on suspicion of homosexuality.
According to Erasing 76 Crimes — a blog tracking enforcement of anti-gay laws in the countries that still criminalize homosexuality — two of the men were released, while the other 23 were held for several days.
The first target was a cabaret club called Le Mistral. Even though it had closed, police first posed as customers pleading to come in. When the staff declined, police broke down the door and arrested seven people, including a dancer, a waiter, and a security guard. They then proceeded to a gay movie theater, arresting 18 more.
The 25 detainees were questioned all night — reportedly denied food and drink throughout. Police Commander Parfait Nana claimed that they identified several types of violations, including not having a national identity card, possessing narcotics, and homosexuality. “Personally, I do not judge anyone and do not condemn anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Nana said. “However, Cameroon has laws to enforce.”
The 23 men held for two days were finally released following a campaign by several LGBTI rights groups to “Free the Yaounde 23.” One of the 23 explained that they were interrogated several times. “Despite threats by the police, we kept our cool. We were brutalized and then we were released,” he said.
In Cameroon, “sexual relations with a person of the same sex” can be punished with prison terms of up to five years in addition to fines. Michel Togue, a Cameroonian attorney who helps defend people accused of homosexuality, previously told ThinkProgress that people are rarely caught in a sexual act, but are often arrested based on stereotypes. That could be how they dress, what they do for a living (e.g. a male hairdresser), or even just certain mannerisms or preferences. One of his clients was convicted because he liked to drink Bailey’s Irish Cream, which the judge felt only a woman would drink.
Just last month, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit denied asylum to a man fleeing Cameroon because he had been persecuted for speaking out on LGBTQ rights. Che Eric Sama denied he was gay, but argued that it only mattered that he was perceived he was gay for having gay friends and supporting them. After Sama posted a message in a university publication defending gay rights, a warrant was issued for his arrest and his mother detained for two days, an anti-gay group physically assaulted him, and a brick had been thrown through his window with the message, “We don’t want gays in our community.”
Still, the Court felt that he was not at risk of persecution if he returned. This was in part because the police did not arrest him when they investigated his attack at the hospital despite the outstanding warrant. The Court also relied on a 2015 State Department report that claimed that “conditions in Cameroon are improving for gay individuals” based on reports that anti-LGBTI arrests had “dropped dramatically.”