By Christophe Van Der Perre and Josiane Kouagheu
DOUALA, Cameroon, April 26 (Reuters) - Coming from Cameroon where letting it be known that she was a lesbian could lead to prison time, activist and social media influencer Bandy Kiki struggled to adjust to her newfound safety after emigrating to Britain a decade ago.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Cameroon, punishable by up to five years in prison.
"I kept thinking, 'Aren't the police going to show up and arrest everybody?'" she said about gatherings she would attend with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Manchester.
"My friends kept saying, 'Kiki, it's legal in this country, chill.' But I said, 'No, because sometimes the law will say one thing and the police will do something else'," she told Reuters in an interview via Skype from Manchester.
As LGBT rights have advanced in countries around the world, Kiki said she had watched with disappointment as her own government doubled down on homophobic policies.
In recent weeks, she has been promoting a high-profile case from Cameroon in which two transgender women were arrested in February for wearing women's clothing at a restaurant and were charged this month with "attempted homosexuality".
The two women, Loic Njeukam, a local social media celebrity known as Shakiro, and Roland Mouthe, who goes by the name Patricia, have spent more than two months in prison waiting for their trial to begin.
'LIFE IN HELL'
The court, in the coastal city of Douala, is expected to hear arguments on Monday. A guilty verdict could carry a sentence of up to five years.
Loic and Roland's experience in jail, their lawyer Alice Nkom said, resembles "a life in hell". They are mocked and threatened by prisoners and guards alike, and are kept safe only by paying for protection, she said.
Fifty-three people have been arrested in raids on HIV and AIDS organisations since May 2020, with some reporting having been beaten and subjected to forced anal examinations to confirm accusations of homosexuality, Human Rights Watch said.
The arrests seem to be part of "an overall uptick in police action" against sexual minorities, it added.
Kiki says the crackdown on Cameroon's LGBT community is just a symptom of a larger problem throughout Cameroonian society.
"Homophobia is like a binding glue when it comes to Cameroonians," Kiki said. "When it comes to hating LGBTQ people, they all come together."
(Reporting by Christophe Van Der Perre and Josiane Kouagheu Additional reporting and writing by Cooper Inveen Editing by Aaron Ross and Gareth Jones)
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