Two prominent lawyers who are representing clients accused of homosexuality in Cameroon have received alarming threats linked to their cases.
Since October 18, Alice Nkom, a lawyer based in Douala, and Michel Togue, a Yaoundé-based lawyer, have received a series of anonymous threats by cell phone and email related to their work on several high-profile homosexuality cases.
One text message to Togue threatened his school-age children and warned him to stop defending people accused of homosexuality.
A subsequent email message to Togue warned, “In this country there is no place for faggots and their defenders”. The sender attached photos of Togue’s children leaving their school building.
An email message to Nkom stated, “If you don’t stop, you’ll see.” The email reiterated the threats to Togue’s children, warning Nkom, “This will be bloody.” It also threatened Nkom’s children.
“Cameroonian authorities should immediately investigate to find out who is threatening these courageous human rights defenders,” commented Neela Ghoshal, researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
“The government should make clear to the public that everyone has a right to defence, and that threats against defence attorneys will not be tolerated.”
Article 347 of Cameroon’s penal code criminalises homosexuality, punishing “sexual relations with a person of the same sex” with sentences ranging from six months to five years.
At least four Cameroonians are serving prison sentences on homosexuality charges. Nkom and Togue are representing them in appeals of their convictions. At least one other Cameroonian is in pre-trial detention. Justice Ministry records show that in 2011, 12 of the 14 people prosecuted for homosexuality were convicted.
Human Rights Watch research conducted in Cameroon in October found that many homosexuality cases are marked by compounded violations of due process rights, including denying suspects the right to legal counsel during the investigation phase.
Prosecutors and courts have relied on flimsy evidence, such as the possession of condoms and lubricant in one case, or the type of alcoholic beverage preferred by a suspect in another, as “proof” of homosexuality.
Lawyers representing clients in homosexuality cases are regularly denounced in the media, with the lawyers’ own sexual orientation called into question. Nkom has previously been warned by fellow lawyers, as well as by the former minister of justice, to stop her activities.
The recent threats of violence against Nkom and Togue and their children take the climate of hostility to a new level, Human Rights Watch said. It insisted that Cameroon investigate the senders of the email messages, which originate from a Gmail address, and the text messages, which originate from two different numbers linked to MTN and Orange network SIM cards.
Togue filed a complaint about the threats at the regional division headquarters of the central judicial police on October 18, while Nkom filed a complaint with the Prosecutor of the Republic on October 23.