YAOUNDE | Mon Jan 7, 2013 6:11pm EST
(Reuters) – A Cameroon appeal court on Monday overturned the convictions of two men found guilty of homosexuality and sentenced to five years in jail for cross-dressing and wearing make-up.
Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon but recent incidents have highlighted growing tension between a largely conservative society and a younger generation less concerned by the issue.
The two men were convicted in November 2011 and had already spent over a year in prison. Their lawyer, Alice Nkom, who also campaigns for gay rights, said the court’s decision had been expected.
“Their conviction was against the law because they were not actually seen or caught doing anything at the time the police arrested them,” she said.
“They were arrested because they were just seen wearing women’s clothes and because of the nature of their make-up, and only suspected to be homosexuals, which is against Cameroon law. That is why we appealed.”
Three weeks ago, the same appeal court upheld the three-year jail term of 32-year-old Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, found guilty of homosexual conduct because he sent a text message to another man saying: “I’m very much in love with you.”
Nkom, who also defended Mbede, said she hoped the supreme court would overturn that ruling.
“A man cannot be found guilty of practicing homosexuality simply because he sent a message to another man to say he loves him. At least two persons of same sex must be caught doing the act before they are arrested and convicted.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said at the time that the criminalization of homosexuality in Cameroon was incompatible with international human rights law.
Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries. In Cameroon, the penalties range from six months to five years in jail. In 2011, there were 12 convictions.
(Reporting by Tansa Musa; Editing by Kevin Liffey)