On Wednesday January 30, while in Paris, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya said that ‘minds in the country are evolving’ on the subject of gay people. This statement followed a massive outcry on behalf of a student in Cameroon, Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé, who had been sentenced to 3 years in prison under Cameroon’s anti-gay law for sending a love text message to another man. More than 122,000 members of the global movement for equality All Out, have signed a petition to Biya asking him to free Roger and end the laws that make it illegal to be gay in Cameroon.
‘President Biya said there may be movement away from the criminalised and negative treatment of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in Cameroon, but the truth is that Roger just had his jail sentence affirmed for sending a text message expressing love to another man, and others remain in jail after being accused of being gay,’ said Andre Banks, Co-founder and Executive Director of All Out. ‘Things are getting worse, not better, for gay people in Cameroon. It is time for more action and less talk. Biya must free Roger and others accused of being gay through an immediate end of the anti-gay law.’
President Biya pointed to a recent ground-breaking case where two individuals, known as Francky and Jonas, were acquitted after being sentenced to 5 years in prison. Francky and Jonas were convicted in 2011 when a judge said the way they dressed, the way they spoke and that they liked Bailey’s Irish Cream proved they were gay.
Biya arrived in France this week to meet with French President Françoise Hollande. During the meetings, Roger, joined by All Out, launched a plea for Hollande to speak to President Biya on Roger’s behalf. In 2011, Roger was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in prison after sending an SMS to another man. He spent more than a year in prison while facing abuse and ill health, until he was released pending his appeal. His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in Yaounde on 17 December 2012, so Roger could face more jail time if he is not freed from his sentence.
‘Mr. Hollande, here in Cameroon I am a criminal because I am gay. I need your help to convince the President of Cameroon to reverse my 3-year prison sentence, to release all innocent people in prison in Cameroon simply because they ‘seem gay’ and put an end to laws that make being gay a crime!’ said Roger Mbédé. ‘I am calling all people to join All Out to help me raise my voice and fight this injustice.’
Roger’s lawyer, Alice N’Kom, who traveled to Paris as well to make Roger’s plight known to Hollande, said, ‘President Biya has the power to free Roger, and put an end to laws that make it illegal to be gay in Cameroon and disgrace our country.’