In Yaoundé, LGBTI prisoners know they are not totally isolated, because they receive regular visits from LGBTI rights activists who give them emotional support and food.
During 2014, members of the anti-AIDS/pro-LGBTI-rights organization Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (Camfaids) made 20 visits to four LGBTI prisoners of the Central Prison in Yaoundé, also known as the Kondengui prison.
The visits have been made possible by a grant from a European supporter. That funding will end this month, perhaps only temporarily. At that point, said Brice Evina, president of Camfaids, “we will be unable to continue our prison visits supporting LGBT people who are victims of arrest on the basis of their sexual orientation.” At least during a period of restructuring at its supporter, Camfaids will need outside financial help to continue its work with LGBTI prisoners, Evina said.
So far in 2015, the visits have continued to the two remaining LGBT prisoners at the Kondengui prison: one gay man and one lesbian. The lesbian, D.E., has served two years of a five-year sentence. The gay man, P.N., has been detained at the prison since late November on homosexuality-related charges. His case is still under investigation at the trial court in Yaoundé.
The other two have been freed after paying their fines.
The visits were led by Jean Jacques Dissoke, head of the Camfaids human rights unit; Joshua Mbarga, head of the health unit; and and his deputy, January Bessala.
Kondengui prison can be brutal for LGBTI prisoners, as illustrated by the treatment that gay prisoner Roger Mbede experienced there. As described in an article in Al-Jazeera by journalist Robbie Corey-Boulet:
Yaoundé’s central prison is by all accounts a rough place, and Mbede fared especially poorly. Inmates familiar with his story refused to share a cell with him, and he was often expelled to the courtyard, exposed to the sun and rain, said Lambert Lamba, a Cameroonian activist who became close with Mbede.
Some called him “pédé,” a derogatory slang word derived from “pedophile” or “pederast,” and “diaper wearer,” a slur hurled at gay men based on the belief that anal sex renders them incontinent.
Guards did little to protect him from violence, Lamba said. At the time of his release, Mbede had a scar on his brow where, he said, he had been hit with a wooden bench.
The monthly visits by Camfaids members provide both emotional support and nutrition for beleaguered LGBTI prisoners.
The visits are organized by the Camfaids human rights unit, which gathers information on the names of detainees to visit and the number of food packages needed, then obtains permits from the Ministry of Justice to enter the prison.
The food packages include a bottle of cooking oil, household soap, antiseptic soap, bleach, a package of tapioca and sugar, a 500-gram package of pasta, rice, Maggi cube, onion and peanuts, plus three bags of tomatoes.
After LGBTI people are released from prison in Yaoundé, they are eligible for post-detention counseling and social activities at CAMFAIDS, including dinners and discussion groups, which are designed to help the former prisoners establish healthy, productive lives after prison.
In 2014, Camfaids provided post-detention follow-up for four LGBTI former prisoners.
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