“Personally, I do not judge anyone,” said Police Commander Parfait Nana. “However, Cameroon has laws to enforce.”
Police arrested 25 men on suspicion of homosexuality Friday night in Cameroon, where same-sex activity is punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison.
Seven suspects were arrested at Mistral, a gay bar in the capital city of Yaoundé—including a dancer, a waiter, and a security guard. Authorities then raided a gay movie theater in the Emombo neighborhood, picking up an additional 18 men. The suspects were then kept overnight at police headquarters, reportedly without food or drink.
“We were interrogated several times,” one told 76 Crimes. “Despite threats by the police, we kept our cool. We were brutalized and then we were released.”
Two men were released that night but the remaining 23 were headed for a court date on Monday, facing additional charges of narcotics possession and failure to provide proper ID. “Personally, I do not judge anyone and do not condemn anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation,” said Police Commander Parfait Nana. “However, Cameroon has laws to enforce.”
Thanks to the efforts of local activists and attorneys, though, the remaining men were were all released and the charges dropped.
Mistral was previously targeted by police in 2016, resulting in a similar scenario: Mass arrests followed by the release of the accused. In 2011, two young men at another bar were convicted solely based on their appearance and drink orders.
Human rights activists report the government in Cameroon turns a blind eye to vigilante executions, but even those who avoid arrest or violence can be subject to harassment or extortion, leading many LGBT Cameroonians to seek asylum in the West.