Suspected homosexuals in Cameroon say they have been tortured and raped in prison, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch and three local organizations.
The 55-page report, titled "Guilty by Association," documents reported abuses by authorities prosecuting suspected gays and lesbians. Those convicted can face up to five years in prison in Cameroon.
The report documents the case of one man who was tied to a chair and beaten so badly he couldn't walk for two weeks. Another defendant described being raped repeatedly and said his rib was broken in a beating.
"Prison guards made no attempt to stop the gang rape and assault, and no one was punished for it, highlighting another sad irony of Cameroon's law: People are convicted to prison time for consensual sexual conduct, but once in prison, convicts who are not considered `homosexual' can sexually victimize them with impunity," the report said.
Neela Ghoshal, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said many cases rested on confessions obtained during beatings and torture or on suspects' appearance and other behavior.
"No one should be sentenced to prison time because they blurt out a confession to stop torture, or because a judge doesn't like what they drink, how they dress, or what kind of text messages they send," Ghoshal said.
Cameroon's Justice Ministry has acknowledged that human rights abuses have occurred but did not issue a specific response to the allegations in Thursday's report.
President Paul Biya told diplomats in early 2012 that he would push for a moratorium on prosecutions of gays and lesbians, according to Thursday's report.
No specific steps have been taken, though Biya told journalists in January there could be a "change of mind" on homosexuality in Cameroon.
Although many African countries have laws banning consensual same-sex conduct, Cameroon pursues prosecutions "more aggressively than almost any country in the world," the report said.
Charges have been brought against at least 28 people in the past three years, it said. Security forces have told human rights organizations, however, that only one arrest has been made in the last six months.
The law criminalizing homosexuality has been on the books in Cameroon since 1972, though it was rarely enforced until a series of high-profile raids and arrests in 2005.
The report says arrests "appeared to continue at a steady pace between 2005 and 2010," and that there was "a surge" in 2010 and 2011.
Some men were forced to undergo invasive medical exams, which Cameroonian officials claimed could determine if they had engaged in gay sex.
The report also documents threats that have been issued in recent months against two lawyers who have defended people accused of homosexual acts. Both Alice Nkom and Michel Togue say they have received emails and text messages threatening them and their children with violence.