Factsheet Alice Nkom and Michel Togué|
GEUZEN MEDAL 2017
ALICE NKOM and MICHEL TOGUÉ
Very few lawyers in Cameroon, a country with a population of
approximately 24 million, are prepared to defend gays, lesbians, bisexuals and
transgender people; Alice Nkom and Michel Togué are two lawyers who are.
Despite receiving serious threats, they continue to defend the rights of these
people unabated. After all, it concerns one of the universal human rights: the
prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
Nevertheless, their clients run the risk of receiving
a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine in spite of
this universal human right, because in Cameroon, gays and lesbians are actively
sought under Article 347 bis of the Cameroon Penal Code. This article prohibits
sexual relations between people of the same sex. Drinking a glass of Baileys
could even be a reason for arrest. Because, or so it is argued, Baileys is a
woman’s drink and a man who drinks it must be gay.
Even flippant accusations about someone or just a text
message can lead to an arrest. The same also applies to men who, according to
the government, work in a ‘typical woman’s job’ as a hairdresser. In addition,
gays and lesbians are deliberately lured into a trap by the police.
According to an Amnesty International report from 2013
(‘Making love a crime’), Cameroon stands out negatively when it comes to
arresting gays and lesbians. According to Amnesty International, detainees are
beaten, subjected to humiliating examinations and locked up in isolation cells
without charge. Alice Nkom and Michel Togué regularly encounter this in their
Alice Nkom has been practising as a lawyer in Douala since 1969.
She was the first black female lawyer in Cameroon.
In 2003, she founded ADEFHO (L'Association pour la défense des droits des Homosexuels), an organisation that
defends the rights of gays and lesbians in Cameroon. Abolishing the contested
Article 347 bis is one of her main objectives. She uses this article as a means
to set her clients free, because the legal text states that there must be a
question of being caught in the act, but few ever are.
encounters considerable opposition from the government in her work. She was
threatened with arrest after receiving a subsidy from the EU. She was also
detained by the police without reason during visits to her clients.
Furthermore, attempts have been made to have her struck off the roll and thus
make her work as a lawyer impossible.
beginning of 2011, she defended two men who had been arrested because they had
bought condoms and a lubricant. ,,That was the only evidence suggesting that
they were homosexual,’’ says Nkom in the aforementioned report of Amnesty
International. ,,The judge ordered an anal examination. Five doctors refused
initially, because it is an act of torture and degrading. One of the doctors
carried out the examination in the end.” The two men were sentenced to six
months in prison.
In 2013, she
defended Jean-Claude Roger Mbede. Despite protests from Human Rights Watch and
Amnesty International, he was incarcerated for three years under appalling
conditions because he had sent a text message to a man. Due to health reasons,
he was released but died later. As a result of this case, Alice Nkom received
many insults and threats. Although in her seventies, she is continuing her
fight against the discrimination of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender
Michel Togué works in Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. He
began assisting gays in 2003 after he met a man who had in vain asked six
colleagues of Togué for help. In the following years, Togué was frequently
threatened, anonymously but also openly, as were his wife and children.
Requests for protection as a result of these threats were rejected by the
police and the government. Neither was an investigation carried out.
His family has had to
flee the country as a result of all these threats. Togué himself has remained
in Cameroon because he would otherwise feel that he had given up the battle for
a better Cameroon.
In 2013, his
office was searched during which his passport, laptop and confidential
information disappeared. The burglary was never solved. In 2015, he led a
march, together with other human rights activists, for Eric Lembembe, a man who
also fought for the rights of gays and lesbians and who was tortured and
subsequently murdered at his home in 2013. Approximately three hundred people
took part in the march under the motto ‘Stop discrimination, assault and
attacks on human rights activists in Cameroon’. During the march, T-shirts were
worn bearing texts such as ‘Human rights activists fight for life, not death’.
After the march, Togué spoke in a public debate on the importance of human
rights and the important role that human rights activists play in achieving
Togué has also
put his heart and soul into the case of Roger Mbede, who became the face of the
campaign against the discrimination of gays. In the meantime, he has assisted
dozens of clients in word and deed in Cameroon.
The hard and dangerous work of Alice Nkom and Michel Togué has certainly
not been without result. The number of convictions in Cameroon on the grounds
of Article 347 bis has fallen sharply in recent years; a change seems to have
taken place. However, the article still remains in black and white in the Penal
Code of Cameroon.