In Cameroon, homosexuality is still considered a criminal offence and carries a jail sentence of six months to five years as well as a fine. Many are regularly arrested without any evidence of being ‘guilty’. During their trial, most people lack steady legal assistance, suffer numerous abuses and are often afraid to press charges or do not know how to. The internet, however, is changing these circumstances.
On 13 September, the organization All Out launched on its website the Free Roger Now petition. It calls Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his minister of justice “to free Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé, who was jailed for sending a text message, and to place a moratorium on Cameroon’s discriminatory anti-gay laws.”
More than one 110,000 people from around the world have signed the petition in just six weeks. Comments read “love ain’t a crime man” and “We all have the right to live the way we see fit”, to cite but a few.
According to the petition, Cameroon’s ant-gay laws “deny basic human rights to many Cameroonians like Roger and create an environment of hostility and fear”. The petition goes on to urge ending “the use of laws that make it a crime to love who you choose and encourage their permanent repeal”.
Besides providing a forum for homosexuals and others who are sympathetic to the cause, the internet is providing a safer way for Cameroonians to fight for the respect of human rights.
The All Out website describes its objectives as “building a truly global community able to respond to moments of crisis and opportunity, to advance the lives and freedoms of LGBT people everywhere” and credits “the unprecedented possibilities for global people power that new social media technologies allow”.
Yves, a 22-year-old Cameroonian who signed the Free Roger petition, is a living example. “I would have never been able to speak so openly in a paper or on the radio,” he says. “The anonymity offered by the web allows me to freely fight for my rights without fear of being thrown in jail.”