Alice Nkom and Michel Togué to receive Geuzen
The Geuzen Medal for 2017 will be awarded toAlice Nkom and
Michel Togué, two lawyers from Cameroon.Very few lawyers in Cameroon are prepared to defend gays, lesbians,
bisexuals and transgender people; two lawyers who are prepared to defend them
are Alice Nkom and Michel Togué. Despite receiving serious threats, they
continue to do so unabated. After all, it concerns one of the universal human
rights: the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
This was announced today, Friday,
13 January by the Geuzenpenning Foundation. The award ceremony will be held on Monday, 13
March 2017 in the Grote Kerk (Great Church) of Vlaardingen. The Geuzen Medal is
awarded as a tribute to people and organisations working for human rights and
who oppose dictatorship, discrimination and racism.
Cameroon, gays and lesbians are actively sought under Article 347 bis of its
Penal Code. This article punishes people who have sexual relations with a
person of the same sex. Offenders risk a prison sentence of up to five years
and a heavy fine. According to a report of Amnesty International from 2013 (‘Making
love a crime’), detainees are beaten, subjected to humiliating examinations and
locked up in isolation cells without being charged. Alice Nkom and Michel Togué
are regularly confronted with this in their daily practice.
drinking a glass of Baileys can be a reason for arrest. Because, or so it is
argued, Baileys is considered a woman’s drink and therefore a man who drinks it
must be gay. Men who, according to the government, practise a ‘typical female
job’ like that of hairdresser, also run the risk of being arrested.
Alice Nkom has been a lawyer in Douala since 1969 and was
the first lawyer in Cameroon with a dark skin colour. In 2003, she established
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.
Nkom encounters a lot of opposition from the government in her work. For
example, 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.
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.
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, sometimes anonymously but also openly. Requests for
protection in reference to these threats were rejected by the police and the
government. Neither was there an investigation of these threats. His family has
had to leave the country as a result of all these threats. Togué himself has
remained in Cameroon because he would otherwise have the feeling that he had
given up the battle for a better Cameroon.
2013 his office was searched and his passport, laptop and confidential
information disappeared. The burglary was never resolved. In 2015, he and other
human rights activists led a march for Eric Lembembe, a man who had also fought
for the rights of gays and lesbians and who was tortured and murdered in his
home in 2013.
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.
The Geuzen Medal has been awarded to various organisations and people
since 1987. The Geuzen Medal is an initiative of the Geuzenpenning Foundation.
This organisation was established by the former Dutch resistance fighters who
were active in World War II. The Geuzen Medal is intended to honour and support
today’s freedom fighters and human rights activists. The Chairman is Frans
Weisglas, the former chairman of the Lower House.
The Geuzen Medal was previously awarded to people such as the Colombian
politician Ingrid Betancourt (2004), the Tunisian human rights lawyer Radhia
Nasraoui (2013), the Swedish human rights activist Thomas Hammarberg and to
organisations such as the International Campaign for Tibet (2005), Human Rights
Watch (2007) and Free Press Unlimited (2015). Last year the Geuzen Medal was
awarded to the search and rescue organisation MOAS. Further information about
the Geuzen Medal can be found at www.geuzenpenning.nl.