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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 daily practice.

 

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.

Alice Nkom 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.

At the 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 people.

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 these rights.

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.



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