An Air France pilot has refused to deport a gay man seeking asylum from the UK to the Cameroon, where gay men are routinely and randomly arrested and subjected to legal ordeals that continue for years. This is at least the fourth time in the past year that an Air France pilot has refused to return a gay asylum seeker to the West African nation—a result of a novel lobbying strategy by European activists.
Twenty-six-year-old Ediage Valerie Ekwedde arrived in Britain last November after escaping from Cameroon where he was harassed because of his sexuality. Ekwedde applied for asylum. The application was rejected because the UK Border Agency claimed that there was "no credible evidence" he was gay.
Valerie made the mistake of drinking too much at his birthday party in a bar in Yaounde, which resulted in a public embrace between him and his partner. They were attacked by an angry crowd and taken to the police station. Because they were both still bleeding from their injuries after two days, they were told they could be taken to the hospital if they had some money. They gave the officer all they had and were fortunately able to make their escape.
Valerie has been living in Coventry, attending a men’s group and frequenting a gay club, but the Home Office does not believe he is a gay man, in spite of having seen a copy of an arrest warrant that was issued for him. In it he is indicted for the crime of homosexuality under section 347 of the Penal Code. This arrest warrant has since been verified by a police officer in Cameroon. His UK partner has now written to the Home Office to confirm they have been in a relationship and other letters from supporters are being submitted.
Ekwedde was supposed to depart from London Heathrow two week ago on May 8 but the Air France pilot refused, reports the BBC.
He was to be flown to Paris to catch a connecting flight. Air France said its 07:10 BST flight from Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle was delayed on Saturday morning due to "operational difficulties". Campaigners said he managed to get a message to the Air France pilot saying that he would "make a fuss" because his life was in danger. According to the campaigners, the pilot is said to have decided not to fly with him out of consideration to the other passengers.
UK and European gay rights activists have successfully lobbied Air France and its pilots to refuse to deport gay asylum seekers. Air France pilots refused to deport gay asylum seekers to Cameroon at least three times during the summer of 2010.
Cameroon boasts one of Africa's more repressive anti-LGBT regimes. Recent months have seen an increase in arrests and prosecutions under section 347a of its penal code, which criminalizes same-sex sexual acts. The government is preparing to toughen its already harsh penalties against homosexuality by equating them with pedophilia.
Gay men in Cameroon are routinely and randomly arrested and subjected to legal ordeals that continue for years. Since late July, a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old have been in police custody. Reports suggest the youths were arrested because they appeared "feminine". The two men received the maximum prison sentence of five years in November.
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