Words: Alastair James; pictures: Instagram/@for_wfw
Two trans women from Cameroon who were sentenced and jailed in May to five years in prison have reportedly been “provisionally released”.
Shakiro and Patricia were arrested on 8 February for "attempted homosexuality" when all they were doing was sitting at a restaurant in what local police considered women’s clothing. They were also charged with public indecency, and for failing to carry their national identity cards.
Activists had called the pair’s five-year sentence a “death sentence” and demanded they be freed. Both women had also been fined 200,000 CFA francs (£260) each.
“A small glimmer of justice”
Reuters reports that the pair’s lawyer, Alice Nkom, an LGBTQ rights activist in Cameroon, says the women should be released on Friday before appearing at an appeal hearing in September.
Nkom told the outlet: “They are going to leave this prison hell where they don’t belong and where they risked extreme violence every day."
Cameroon is one of 69 countries worldwide that criminalise homosexuality. The country's penal code was updated in 2016 to state that anyone having "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" can be imprisoned for anywhere between six months and five years.
Neela Ghoshal, the Associate Director for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, celebrated the news on Twitter as “a small glimmer of justice”. Ghoshal has repeatedly called for the charges to be dropped altogether.
A small glimmer of justice. Two #trans women sentenced to five years in prison in #Cameroon simply for existing, #Shakiro and Patricia, have been freed pending appeal. The state should drop the charges altogether and let them live in peace. https://t.co/SipePKET7J https://t.co/deeqaihLTr— Neela Ghoshal (@NeelaGhoshal) July 13, 2021
Speaking to Attitude at the time of Shakiro and Patricia’s imprisonment, Ghoshal said the two had received death threats during their arrest and upon entering an overcrowded prison, which Ghoshal has experienced herself.
She told Attitude the prisons “are horrific... Their experience will be horrific and unimaginable. This is essentially a death sentence..."
In April, Human Rights Watch reported that at least 24 LGBTQ people had been arrested, threatened, and assaulted in Cameroon since February.
The BBC’s former LGBT Correspondent Ben Hunte has described the abuses in Cameroon as "consistently some of the most horrific stories I hear."