Letter concerning death threats received by two Cameroonian human rights lawyers
13 February 2013
His Excellency Paul Biya
President of the Republic of Cameroon
Office of the President
P.O. Box 100
Republic of Cameroon
Via facsimile to the Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations: +1-212-249-0533
Ref: Death threats received by two Cameroonian human rights lawyers
Dear President Biya:
We are writing to call your attention to a series of death threats received in the last four months by Alice Nkom and Michel Togué, two Cameroonian human rights lawyers who defend clients charged with homosexuality under Cameroon’s article 347 bis. We are deeply concerned by the apparent lack of state action in response to these serious threats.
Nkom and Togué both began to receive death threats in mid-October 2012 when two cases in which they were defending clients accused of homosexuality – the case of Roger Jean-Claude Mbede and the case of Franky Djome and Jonas Singa Kimié – attracted national and international attention. The threats, sent by email and by SMS, threaten violence against the lawyers themselves, their children, and their clients.
The death threats make specific reference to the work of the lawyers in defending alleged gays and lesbians. They come from an email address “pasdepedesauCameroon@gmail.com,” meaning “No faggots in Cameroon,” and from several Cameroonian telephone numbers. The messages use homophobic slurs to refer to Nkom and Togué. They threaten that the lawyers will be killed on specific dates. One message to Nkom promises, “This will be bloody.” Another, threatening her clients, warns “It only remains [to find] their houses… the neighborhoods are already in our hands.” A message received by Togué contains photographs taken of his daughter just outside her primary school, suggesting that the perpetrators of these threats are following the lawyers and their families. A subsequent message warns Togué to stop “defending your faggot ideas,” or risk being “at the bedside of one of your dying children.” The messages are attached to this letter as an appendix.
Alice Nkom submitted complaints in writing to the prosecutor of the republic in Douala and in Yaoundé in late October 2012. To date, she has received no response and has not been called in for further information so that prosecutors may undertake investigations.
Michel Togué went to the Central Regional Division of the Judicial Police on October 19, where he met personally with the chief of division to file a complaint. Other police officers present in the meeting told Togué that if he did not want to receive threats, he should stop representing persons charged with homosexuality.
In spite of the severity of the threats, neither Human Rights Watch nor the lawyers themselves are aware of any public statements made by Your Excellency or by any other Cameroonian government officials condemning these threats.
Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which is integrated into the Cameroonian constitution under article 45, guarantees to anyone accused of a crime “the right to defense, 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.
We call on the Cameroonian government to take immediate action to ensure that these threats are investigated. Law enforcement agencies should investigate the source of the messages through established legal channels and should prosecute those found responsible.
We respectfully urge you to delegate high-level law enforcement officials to meet with Nkom and Togué in order to discuss what steps the government might take to help ensure their protection and security.
We encourage you, as president of Cameroon, to publicly speak out against these death threats and to make all Cameroons aware that, whatever beliefs they may hold about homosexuality, threats of violence against lawyers and human rights defenders, as well as threats against alleged gays and lesbians, are reprehensible and will not be tolerated.
We look forward to receiving information about the steps that you and your government are taking to investigate the threats against Alice Nkom and Michel Togué, to ensure that the right to defense is upheld, and to reinforce messages promoting tolerance and rejecting violence.
Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program
Director, Africa Division