(Corrects name of organisation in third paragraph to IDAHO France Committee)
By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Feb 26 (Openly) - Three murders and more than 20 arrests targeting LGBT+ people in Cameroon this month have raised fears of an upswing in homophobic persecution in the Central African country, rights campaigners and lawyers said on Friday.
Same-sex relationships are illegal across much of Africa, but few countries are as assiduous in applying penalties as Cameroon, where gay sex is punishable with up to five years' imprisonment, according to LGBT+ organisations.
Police have failed to record or investigate the Feb. 6 murder of a gay couple in their home in the capital, Yaounde, or the Feb. 22 killing of a gay man in the city of Douala, said Alexandre Marcel, director of the Paris-based IDAHO France Committee rights group.
"We were alerted by local partners in Cameroon who have been trying to get the police to find the people behind these murders, but the police have taken no action," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"These murders and the increase in arrests of LGBT+ people is very worrying. No one is saying anything about it, no one is taking any action."
Local police could not immediately be reached to comment.
Since the start of this month, campaigners have also documented the arrest of 21 LGBT+ Cameroonians on charges of practicing homosexuality.
On Feb. 8, two transgender women were arrested in a restaurant in Douala, 12 gay youth were detained in Bertoua town on Feb. 14 and this week, seven gay men were picked up by police in the western town of Bafoussam, LGBT+ activists said.
Alice Nkom, a prominent LGBT+ rights lawyer who is representing the two trans women detained in Douala, said she was "confident" they would be acquitted.
"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 said, calling for police to investigate the recent murders.
In 2013, Nkom's efforts led to acquittal of two men who were convicted of homosexuality and sentenced to five years in jail for cross-dressing and wearing make-up.
Still, such arrests and prosecutions are common in Cameroon.
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, according to CAMFAIDS, an LGBT+ advocacy group. (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.