Gay prisoner’s lawyer defies death threats

Attorney Walter Atoh

Attorney Walter Atoh

The lawyer of a man jailed for homosexuality in Cameroon has had to face death threats simply for defending his client.

Cornelius Fonya, 35, was convicted of having sex with a young man in 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison. He was also disowned by his family.

Erasing 76 Crimes reports that his attorney, Walter Atoh (known in Cameroon as Barrister Atoh Walter M. Tchemi), is one of the few lawyers in Cameroon willing to defend LGBT clients.

Atoh, however, had to temporarily suspend his services to Fonya and fled with his wife to London after receiving multiple telephonic death threats.

“We will eliminate you and your entire family since you have decided to remain stoic and adamant [in] defending or supporting abominable acts,” said one caller.

Atoh plans to return home where he will proceed with his appeal of Fonya’s conviction on the basis of procedural irregularities.

“Notwithstanding the murder threats against me and my family, I will be going back to Cameroon to continue with my crusade as an LGBTI lawyer,” Atoh said.

Fonya has been behind bars since October 29, 2012, when he was attacked by a mob that hauled him to the police station and accused him of homosexuality. He is currently being held at Buea Central Prison under appalling conditions.

Atoh has appealed for international help in the case: “Cornelius hasn’t got money to pay lawyers for his case and his case is very complicated. Consequently he needs support from humanitarian-minded persons. I can’t do that alone as an individual.”

The lawyer has now launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the jailed man’s legal expenses.

The maximum sentence for same-sex relations between adults in Cameroon is five years, but the maximum sentence is doubled for same-sex relations involving someone between the ages of 16 and 21. While there were claims that the man Fonya had sex with was 16, Atoh insists that he was actually older than 20.

A 2013 Human Rights Watch report found that most cases in which people were prosecuted for homosexuality in the country were marked by grave human rights violations. These included torture, forced confessions, denial of access to legal representation, and discriminatory treatment by law enforcement and judicial officials.

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