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Cameroon: Donations free 3 innocent lesbians from prison

Chrison and Amso from Ebolowa, Cameroon, are two of the lesbian prisoners who were released from prison early this month after donors to Project Not Alone paid their fines. For their safety, their faces are not shown.

Chrison and Amso are two of the three innocent lesbian prisoners from Ebolowa, Cameroon, who were released from prison early this month after donors to Project Not Alone paid their fines. For their safety, their faces are not shown. The third former prisoner, Keli, opted out of the photograph.

By Steeves Winner

Prison is a jungle where the law of the strongest reigns. That’s the lesson that three innocent lesbians — Chrison, Amso and Keli — learned this year when they were imprisoned in Ebolowa, a town in southern Cameroon, on charges of homosexuality.

For their safety, this article uses pseudonyms for all three women.

Before their arrest, the three friends had been living together peacefully in an Ebolowa apartment, which they could afford by working in a snack bar.

That tranquil life was thrown into turmoil when the parents of Keli accused Chrison and Amso of luring their daughter into lesbianism. The parents contacted police, who arrested all three last Dec. 12 at home.

Map of Cameroon shows Ebolowa about 100 miles south of the Yaoundé, the capital. (Map courtesy of Rand McNally)

Map of Cameroon shows the location of Ebolowa, south of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. (Map courtesy of Rand McNally)

In Cameroon, homosexual activity is punishable by up to five years in prison. Judges often impose prison sentences when there’s no evidence other than the fact that people of the same sex who were accused of homosexuality were living together.

If Keli, Chrison and Amso had money, they could have bought their way out of the police station. But as it was, they were sent to Ebolowa Prison. In January, Chrison, age 32; Amso, 28; and Keli, 22, each received a four-month sentence.

Life in prison was difficult. They were reluctant to leave their cells because they were afraid of the other prisoners. Some prisoners insulted them, others stole their meals and their toiletries. They concluded that they had to stay strong to survive.

“Prison for lesbian women is very hard.” Chrison said. “The other prisoners are wary of you, thinking that you will sexually abuse them at any time. As for the guards, they monitor you at all times and punish you at the slightest mistake. ”

“One day, a guard ordered us to clean a shared cell even though it was not our job to do so, because it was other prisoners’ turn to clean it.  When we refused, he punished us by forcing us to clean that cell for the next  ten days.”

Their time in prison was eased by Project Not Alone, which delivered toiletries and food to them. That project, sponsored by this news site and the St. Paul’s Foundation charity, collects donations from readers for use on behalf of innocent LGBTI prisoners in Cameroon and Nigeria. Since 2019, Project Not Alone has fed and freed 43 prisoners.

The three women’s prison sentence was scheduled to end May 14, but only if they could pay their fines and court costs. Those amounted to a fine of 157,300 FCFA (about U.S. $250) and court costs of 36,700 FCFA (about $60) for each of them.

None of them had money to pay the fines, which meant they would have to remain in prison for another four months to work off their debt.

Project Not Alone came to their aid.  Donations from readers paid what they owed — a total of  582,100 FCFA (about $930).

Chrison, Amso and Keli were released on May 25.

Keli returned to her family home and opted out of an interview with a reporter from Erasing 76 Crimes.

Chrison and Amso were hired as waitresses in a snack bar run by an ally of Ebolowa’s LGBTI community.  Using a small advance  from the snack bar, they rented a room where they can resume their normal lives.

Chrison and Amso praised Project Not Alone for helping LGBTI people in difficulty. They also expressed a hope that the project could expand its work by investing in newly released prisoners as they seek to rejoin society and get back on their feet financially after prison.

Steeves Winner, the author of this article, is a Cameroonian journalist who writes under a pseudonym. Contact him at [email protected].

Source: African Human Rights Media Network member Erasing 76 Crimes.