Cameroon jails ‘gay’ man for texting ‘I’m in love with you’ to male friend

Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé’s three-year prison term upheld by appeals court in Africa’s most repressive state for homosexuals

An appeals court in Cameroon has upheld a three-year sentence against a man found guilty of homosexual conduct for sending a text message to another man saying: “I’m very much in love with you.”

Activists said the court’s ruling on Monday in Yaoundé, the capital, marked yet another setback for gays and lesbians in the west African country, widely viewed as the most repressive country in the continent when it comes to prosecuting same-sex couples.

Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé, 32, had been provisionally released on bail in July after serving a year and a half in prison. His lawyer has 10 days now to file an appeal to the country’s supreme court.

Holding back tears on Monday, Mbédé said he was not sure whether he could withstand more time in prison, given the conditions he faced there.

“I am going back to the dismal conditions that got me critically ill before I was temporarily released for medical reasons,” he told Associated Press by telephone. “I am not sure I can put up with the anti-gay attacks and harassment I underwent at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of my perceived and unproven sexual orientation. The justice system in this country is just so unfair.”

Mbédé’s provisional release earlier this year followed pressure from rights activists over his deteriorating health aggravated by malnutrition and repeated assaults.

Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries, and MPs in Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda have recently presented legislation that would strengthen anti-gay laws that are already on the books.

But even in those countries, prosecutions are rare or nonexistent, said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights programme at Human Rights Watch.

Cameroon’s penal code calls for sentences ranging from six months to five years for people found guilty of “sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” And last year, 14 people were prosecuted for homosexuality and 12 were convicted, according to justice ministry records cited by Human Rights Watch.

“It’s the country that arrests, prosecutes and convicts more people than any other country that we know of in Africa for consensual same-sex adult conduct,” Ghoshal said. “In most of these cases there is little or no evidence. Usually people are convicted on the basis of allegations or denunciations from people who have claimed to law enforcement officials that they are gay.”

She said many suspects were tortured or otherwise treated poorly in custody until they gave confessions, which were then used as evidence against them.

In October, two men were convicted of homosexuality because of their “effeminate” appearance and because they were drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, which was viewed as a drink favoured by gay men, according to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, said Mbédé had already been significantly harmed by the case against him because of the pervasive anti-gay stigma in Cameroon.

“Roger said he had to leave the university where he was studying because of the attention from the case and because of the mounting threats and fear of violence that have been very concerning to him,” Banks said. “He’s worried that he won’t be able to have a normal life in Cameroon because of the amount of attention it’s brought to him.”

Lawyers defending those accused of homosexuality have also faced death threats including Mbédé’s lawyer, Alice Nkom.

A text message sent in October to Yaoundé-based lawyer Michel Togue, who has also defended people accused of homosexuality, similarly threatened his children. Attached to the message were photos of the children leaving school.

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Journalist asylum-seeker released from detention

Sheffield man wins latest round in prolonged litigation. Marishka Van Steenbergen is keeping watch on the case for the Northerner

Sheffield asylum-seeker Bernard Mboueyeu returned home to his wife on Friday after spending five weeks in detention pending deportation to Cameroon, as reported in the Guardian Northerner.

Mboueyeu, who fears persecution and jail if he is deported to Cameroon, was detained by the UK Border Agency on 10 July with a deportation flight booked for the 16 July. However, Mboueyeu’s deportation was cancelled after he attempted suicide by drinking cleaning fluid the night before his flight.

Mboueyeu fled his homeland of Cameroon in 2007 after he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the ruling regime for supporting opposition groups. The treatment followed his arrest by President Paul Biya’s security forces for taking photographs of students being attacked during protests in 2006.
Supporters say that the journalist, who was working for a newspaper in southern Cameroon at the time, was stripped naked, beaten up and kept in jail for forty days.

After living in Sheffield for three years, Mboueyeu met and married charity worker Sharon in 2010. Shortly after the marriage the Home Office insisted that Mboueyeu return to Cameroon to apply for a spouse’s visa.

Mboueyeu offered to return voluntarily to Cameroon if the Home Office could guarantee his safety, but supporters say that the Home Office was unable to make that guarantee. His supporters say that if he is returned, he could be arrested, face torture, or be locked up indefinitely.

Before Mboueyeu was detained by the UK Border Agency, his solicitors were preparing a case for a judicial hearing on 9 August, which was allowed to go ahead following the cancellation of the deportation flight on 16 July.
Mboueyeu’s wife Sharon, who lives in Wincobank, Sheffield, says:

At the hearing the Home Office barrister said that Bernard was a ‘daytime grandfather’ because we don’t live with my daughter. He also said that we made the authorities in Cameroon aware of Bernard because we went to the media for support.

Bernard won because we had a social worker report on the role Bernard plays in the lives of our grandchildren and because Amnesty International took on Bernard’s case.

I could not believe how the Home Office tried to make him look bad and now he has to report twice a week – I think because they are annoyed that we won.

Mboueyue, who has been released without bail, said that Amnesty International wrote a letter in support of his case detailing Cameroon’s record of gross human rights violations and how political opposition is not tolerated and is often suppressed through violence. Mboueyue said that Amnesty International’s letter expressed concern about the fact that he is known in Cameroon and would be detained and persecuted if he returned to his home country.

Pending judicial review, he hopes to gain leave to remain in the UK. He thanked those who supported him and said:

It is great to be home with my wife and family, I am so pleased to be home.

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London 2012: seven Cameroonian athletes go missing from Olympics

Team officials say that five boxers, a swimmer and a footballer have disappeared, possibly to claim asylum

Seven Olympic athletes have disappeared amid fears they have fled the London 2012 Games to claim asylum, according to team officials.

Five boxers, a swimmer and a footballer from Cameroon were reported missing earlier this week leading team officials to suggest they had “defected.”

“What began as rumour has finally turned out to be true,” David Ojong, the Cameroon mission head said. “Seven Cameroonian athletes who participated at the 2012 London Olympic Games have disappeared from the Olympic Village.”

The Cameroonian athletes have not broken British immigration rules introduced for the Olympics that allow competitors, their coaches and families to stay in the country until early November.

But the athletes’ disappearance and Ojong’s comments have received widespread attention in Cameroon, where people said they were embarrassed by the news but understood the predicament facing the athletes.

“The conditions in Cameroon are very difficult – there are no opportunities here and if you have the chance to go the UK, it’s understandable that you would want to stay there,” said Henri Tchounga, a tour guide in Yaounde. “But my fear is that now Cameroonians will have a bad reputation and in future we will not be able to get visas. It’s good for them but a serious problem for the rest of us.”

Ojong said a reserve goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team, Drusille Ngako, was the first to disappear. She was not one of the 18 finally retained after pre-Olympic training in Scotland.

While her team-mates left for Coventry for their last preparatory encounter against New Zealand, she vanished. A few days later, swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue disappeared along with his personal belongings.

Ojong added that five boxers eliminated from the Games, Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Abdon Mewoli, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo and Serge Ambomo, went missing on Sunday from the Olympic village. It was reported that four of the athletes were last seen at a team reception at the Royal Garden hotel, next to Kensington Palace, west London, on Friday.

Ojong is understood to have held talks with the sports minister Adoum Garoua at the Olympic Village on Tuesday.

It is not the first time Cameroonian athletes have disappeared during international sports competitions.

At past Francophonie and Commonwealth games as well as junior soccer competitions, several Cameroonians have quit their delegation without official consent.

In June, an Ethiopian torchbearer, Natnael Yemane, 15, also disappeared after he went missing from a hotel in Nottingham.

Meanwhile three Sudanese athletes who hoped to compete in the Games were last month reported missing amid claims they would apply for political asylum.

Flaubert Mbiekop, an economist from Cameroon, said: “The bottom line is to look at the economic conditions in Cameroon and see how hard the system is for many people, especially the athletes who don’t receive any support from the government. London presented an opportunity; I’m not at all surprised that they took it.”

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Journalist asylum-seeker attempts suicide hours before planned deportation

Home Office delays flight to Cameroon but is not backing down on decision. Protesters plan new appeal on medical ground as Marishka Van Steenbergen reports

Sheffield asylum-seeker Bernard Mboueyeu is receiving medical treatment after drinking cleaning fluid just hours before he was due to be deported to Cameroon, where he fears persecution and jail.

The removal flight, reported in the Guardian Northerner yesterday, has now been cancelled and Mboueyeu remains at Campsfield House immigration centre where he is now on 24-hour suicide watch. Supporters say this is the second time that he has tried to take his own life.

Mboueyeu’s wife Sharon, who lives in Wincobank, Sheffield, said Mboueyeu drank three cups of ‘cleaning fluid’:

I’m devastated, I can’t believe it has come to this. He’s just not that kind of person. It must have been a last resort for him.

The UK Border Agency can still deport Mboueyeu with 72 hours’ notice. However, supporters have asked the Medical Justice Foundation to assess Mboueyeu’s health. He cannot be removed if doctors say he is not physically or mentally fit to fly.

Mboueyeu fled his homeland of Cameroon, in 2007 after he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the ruling regime for supporting opposition groups. The treatment followed his arrest by President Paul Biya’s security forces for taking photographs of students being attacked during protests in 2006. Supporters say that the journalist, who was working for a newspaper in southern Cameroon at the time, was stripped naked, beaten up and kept in jail for forty days.

Sharon said that she spoke to Mboueyeu yesterday:

His words to me were that he’d rather die than go back and face torture and death anyway.

Mboueyeu married charity worker Sharon in 2010 but the Home Office is insisting that he returns to Cameroon to apply for a spouse’s visa. His supporters say that if he is returned, he could be arrested, face torture, or be locked up indefinitely.

Before Mboueyeu was detained by the UK Border Agency on 10 July, his solicitors were preparing a case for a hearing on 9 August. Sharon said that she contacted Immigration Minister Damian Green after hearing of the self-harm attempt. She said:

I’m hoping Damian Green will make the right decision. We’re not asking for Bernard to be given leave to remain, all we’re asking is for him to be given an opportunity and to be allowed to keep the court date so that the judge can make the decision.

However, former Cabinet Minister David Blunkett said late yesterday:

I was very sad to learn of Bernard Mboueyeu’s attempt to harm himself and the trauma that his wife Sharon and all those who care about him have been experiencing.
 
This has been a very prolonged and complex case and I’m sad for all of them that we appear to have come to the end of the line.
 
At the last judicial review the judge made it clear that he would not provide a stay on removal instructions but there is an outstanding further attempt at judicial review on 9 August.
 
As a consequence I approached the Immigration Minister Damien Green to ask for a stay on that removal until this further judicial review had been heard.

 
Blunkett received a response from Green soon afterwards stating that it would not be in the public interest to stop Mboueyeu’s deportation. Green said:

The new immigration rules entered into force on 9 July 2012 and account has been taken of Parliament’s view in general on where the public interest lies.

The UK Border Agency have considered the grounds for Mr [Mboueyeu] Djikeugoue’s renewed application and is satisfied that his removal is entirely in line with the recent clear statement by Parliament on how the proportionality balance should be struck and that in this case it weighs in favour of the public interest.

I would consider intervening in removal proceedings only under the most compelling and compassionate of circumstances which I am not satisfied exist in this case. Consequently, I am not prepared to intervene in this matter and arrangements in place for the removal of Mr [Mboueyeu] Djikeugoue will therefore proceed.

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Political asylum seeker fears torture and detention if deported

Sheffield journalist married local charity worker two years ago, but must return to apply for spouse’s visa in Cameroon where he faces persecution. Film by Joe Bream and Marishka Van Steenbergen

An emergency protest has been held outside Sheffield Town Hall in support of Bernard Mboueyeu, who fears persecution and jail if he is deported to Cameroon first thing tomorrow, Monday 16 July.

Mboueyeu, who is currently being detained at Pennine House in Manchester, was arrested by the UK Border Agency on Tuesday morning. This is the second time he has been held, after being released and allowed to return to Sheffield just six weeks ago.

Mboueyeu fled his homeland of Cameroon in 2007 after he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the ruling regime for supporting opposition groups. The treatment followed his arrest by President Paul Biya’s security forces for taking photographs of students being attacked during protests in 2006. Biya has been in power since 1982.

Supporters say that the journalist, who was working for a newspaper in southern Cameroon at the time, was stripped naked, beaten up and kept in jail for forty days. Mboueyeu’s wife Sharon, who lives in Wincobank, Sheffield, says:

They cut his feet with machetes – he’s still got the scars on his legs.

Mboueyeu married charity worker Sharon in 2010 but the Home Office is insisting that he returns to Cameroon to apply for a spouse’s visa. His supporters say that if he is returned as planned early tomorrow morning, he could be arrested, face torture, or be locked up indefinitely.

Shaffaq Mohammed, Sheffield’s Liberal Democrat Leader, who was at the Town Hall protest, says:

Mboueyeu has offered to return voluntarily to Cameroon if the Home Office guarantees his safety but the Home Office have refused to make that guarantee.

We think Bernard’s safety is at grave risk, if not his life. All because a bureaucrat would like a piece of paper to be sent from a foreign country.

Commenting on a 2009 Amnesty Report on Cameroon, Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa said:

Cameroon has a horrendous record of gross human rights violations, including torture and killings, against dissidents and members of opposition. Political opposition is not tolerated in Cameroon. Any dissent is suppressed through either violence or abuse of the legal system to silence critics.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson says:

Our rules are very clear, when someone has no right to be in the UK we expect them to leave voluntarily. If they fail to do so, we will seek to remove them.

Cllr Mohammed says that whilst in Sheffield, Bernard was making a great contribution to the city.

He volunteered with the Royal Society for the Blind and another charity called Aspire. Two years ago, when the devastating floods hit Pakistan, one of the first people outside the Town Hall was Bernard. He helped to highlight the plight and to raise thousands of pounds.

Sharon says:

He’s my husband, he’s a step-dad, he’s a granddad and it’s so wrong that they’re quite happy to take him away from us and not allow him to have a family life.

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Cameroon couple win asylum seeker status after long fight

Playwright Lydia Besong and her husband, Bernard Batey, can stay in the north west after their campaign was successful

The news that a Cameroon playwright and her husband have won their asylum case after a long battle has been welcomed by campaigners.

A campaign by leading writers to halt the removal of Lydia Besong and her husband Bernard Batey from the UK has been successful. In January, leading writers and barristers wrote to the home secretary, Theresa May, condemning the UK Border Agency’s decision to deport the couple.

The letter was signed by former children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo, Monica Ali, Hanif Kureishi, Alan Ayckbourn, Nick Hornby and Helena Kennedy. With hours to go before their scheduled deportation earlier this year, the couple were granted a judicial review.

Besong says she was raped in Cameroon by a uniformed guard when she was in prison and if she and her husband were deported, they would be persecuted for speaking out against the government.

They have both been detained in the UK twice over the last two-and-a-half years, most recently in January as they registered with immigration services in Manchester. Severely traumatised by her ordeal, when I spoke to her following her release, her leg trembled as she talked and she was suffering from glaucoma. She was fearful of what would happened if she was returned to Cameroon once the media spotlight had gone.

Gary McIndoe, their solicitor, of Latitude Law, said: “The tribunal has recognised that Lydia and Bernard’s political and cultural activities will place them at risk if they return to Cameroon. This is a deeply important victory for everyone interested in ensuring the safety of our refugees.”

The couple, who currently live in Bury, have fought a high profile campaign for asylum in the UK. They were forced to free Cameroon more than five years ago after they were both imprisoned, tortured and persecuted for their political activities as members of the SCNC – South Cameroon National Council – a peaceful organisation that campaigns for independence.

Besong said she was very pleased with the decision and hopefully it will be a final decision, as the UKBA still has some time to appeal. She thanked her supporters and said they now feel safe.

Amnesty’s international deputy director for Africa, Tawanda Hondora, said: “Political opposition is not tolerated in Cameroon. Any dissent is suppressed through either violence or abuse of the legal system to silence critics.”

Lydia’s most recent play, Down with the Dictator, performed in Manchester and Bury. It is set in Cameroon and explores themes of power, political corruption and censorship. Her earlier play, How I Became An Asylum Seeker, was performed throughout the UK.

Michael Morpurgo has previously said: “How this country treats asylum seekers is the measure of what kind of a people we are.” He said Besong was extraordinarily brave in her stand against oppression and “that her talents would be of great value to us as a citizen in our society would seem to be obvious.”

But Nkwelle Ekaney, the Cameroon High Commissioner in the UK, rejected the couple’s claims, saying Cameroon respects human rights and the rule of law and international conventions that “respect the integrity and dignity of the human person.”

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