Two trans women in the central African country of Cameroon are facing five years in prison on charges of “attempted homosexuality”.
Mildred Loic and Moute Rolland were arrested for wearing women’s clothes in the country’s largest city, Douala, on 8 February. Police are said to have made the arrests while the pair were eating in a restaurant.
The women were denied bail on Wednesday (24 March) after a judge adjourned their case and sent them back to jail, their lawyer Richard Tamfu said.
Loic had built an online reputation as a cosmetician, becoming a local social media celebrity known as Shakiro with more than 100,000 Facebook followers.
She and Rolland are also facing charges of public indecency and not carrying identification, according to Reuters. They have pled not guilty.
Their arrests come amid a spike in LGBT+ crackdowns by Cameroonian authorities over the last year, leading to dozens of arrests.
“We have observed a resurgence in homophobic attacks this year,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is common for people to be abused in detention.”
Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon and punishable by up to five years in prison. The LGBT+ advocacy group CAMFAIDS reports that between 2010 and 2014, at least 50 people were convicted for crimes ranging from cross-dressing to a man texting “I love you” to another man.
Vigilante executions, beatings and torture are also tolerated, according to GLAAD.
Alice Nkom, a prominent LGBT+ rights lawyer who is representing the trans women, said last month she was “confident” they would be acquitted as there was no actual evidence of a crime.
“It is not illegal to be homosexual or transgender. According to our law, it is the act which is the crime. This is a flagrant violation of their human rights,” she told Reuters.
However, continuing delays have caused concern. Loic and Rolland’s case was expected to be heard on Wednesday but was pushed back to 5 April while the prosecution builds its case, Tamfu said.
“They were hoping that today everything would come to an end. The prosecution has not established concrete evidence… We think they should be released,” he said.
He added that the defendants were “very depressed” and staying in overcrowded prison cells where they risked contracting COVID.