Threatened: Alice Nkom

Cameroon has been slammed by Human Rights Watch for not taking action against death threats made to two lawyers who represent clients accused of homosexual conduct.

Alice Nkom and Michel Togué, both Cameroonian human rights lawyers, have been threatened in the form of emails and text messages over their work defending clients charged with homosexuality.

“Since October, the Cameroonian authorities have been aware of death threats against the two lawyers, and they apparently have done absolutely nothing in response,” said Neela Ghoshal, researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

The threats began when appeals filed by the lawyers in two “homosexuality” cases attracted national and international attention. Several days after receiving the threats in October, both Nkom and Togué submitted complaints to law enforcement agencies.

The cases involved Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, whose conviction was upheld by an appeals court in December, and Franky Djome and Jonas Singa Kimié, whose conviction was overturned in January 2013.

To the lawyers’ knowledge, no action was taken in response to their complaints, they told Human Rights Watch. Police reportedly told Togué that if he did not wish to receive death threats, he should stop representing people charged with homosexuality.

Since October, the threats have continued and their gravity has increased. A message received by Togué in December warned him to stop “defending your faggot ideas,” or risk being “at the bedside of one of your dying children.” A message to Nkom the same month, threatening her clients, warned, “It only remains [to find] their houses… the neighbourhoods are already in our hands.”

Human Rights Watch noted that Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which is integrated into the Cameroonian constitution, guarantees to anyone accused of a crime “the right to defence, including the right to be defended by counsel of his choice.”

The death threats received by the lawyers, coupled with the authorities’ inaction, amount to a threat to this basic right, said the organisation.

“President Biya recently stated that ‘minds are changing’ in Cameroon regarding homosexuality, but the government should take the lead by sending consistent messages that homophobic threats and violence are reprehensible,” Ghoshal commented.

“Sitting back and doing nothing while human rights defenders are literally putting their lives on the line to uphold the right to defence is unacceptable.”

Consensual same-sex conduct is criminalised under the Cameroonian penal code, and at least 28 people have been prosecuted under the law since 2010. Nkom and Togué are among the only lawyers courageous enough to take up these cases in a country where homophobia is pervasive.

Watch a Human Rights Watch Video report below.

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