Anti-gay hooligans continue to harass Michel Togué, one of the few lawyers in Cameroon who accepts LGBT people as clients. Following death threats that he has received by phone and mail in recent months, his offices were burglarized on June 16. The burglars took his laptop, passport, USB memory devices, and a variety of confidential materials.
When Togué returned to his office that day, he found that the grill securing the main entrance had been cut and the lock forced. His office door was broken open. Associates’ offices were invaded. In his office, the contents of his desk were rifled and left overturned. In the next room, containing confidential records, everything was searched from top to bottom.
A friend’s belongings, including shirts, perfumes, handbags, etc., were stolen. Cabinets were searched, their contents scattered, the drawers left open. The thieves took his laptop, a small money box, personal items, and two USB memory sticks containing confidential documents.
Also among the stolen items was Togué’s passport, which he need for travel that he had planned for the next week. In the drawer next to his passport, he kept an envelope containing nearly 1,300 euros. That envelope had been opened, but the money was left inside. It has just been re-opened and left in its place. Since then, Togué has kept the envelope and its contents with him at all times.
Togué said he had been at the office around noon on June 16. The break-in must have occurred that afternoon before 6 p.m., when the security guard arrived.
Togué admitted that the crime had upset him.
“This is not a simple burglary,” he said during an interview on June 19.. “It is obvious that this unexpected visit is because of my commitment to human rights, because people have been going out of their way recently to threaten me personally for my work defending LGBT people.”
Togué reported the burglary to police, who launched an investigation. Photos of the scene will go in the police dossier about the crime. The broken locks were repaired. But Togué is too bold and stubborn to be scared into moving or abandoning the cause.
“The problems of an emerging country such as ours cannot be solved by intimidation or attempts to gag human rights defenders. The rule of law, to be worthy of the name, must respect the rights of everyone, including activists. These acts are totally despicable and cowardly,” he said.
At present, Togué is working on about 10 cases involving homosexuality charges. Some of his clients have been sentenced to prison, such as Diane, who received Cameroon’s maximum sentence of five years for homosexual activity, and Clarisse and Jeanine, sentenced to nine months.. Others are out on bail, such as Benoit in Kribi, who apparently has been set free, as well as Roger Mbede, Jonas Kumie and Franky Djome, whose cases are headed to the Supreme Court.
In October 2012, Togué receive threatening phone calls and letters calling him a “faggot” and warning that his children would be kidnapped. One message stated, “If you don’t stop defending homosexuals, we will take your children. We know them very well.”
His wife received a similar message: “Choose the child that you love the most. That’s the one we’re going to turn into a homo. That way you’ll know what it is you’re defending.”
These threats forced the human rights defender to send his family abroad for their safety, but he remained in Cameroon to continue the fight. In light of what happened on June 16, it’s clear that the fight will be long and difficult.
– Eric O. LEMBEMBE
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- LGBT issues: Invest in Cameroon? (blogs.montrealgazette.com)
- Morocco tally: 81 trials for homosexuality in 1 year (76crimes.com)
- Peaceful celebration in Cameroon a year after mob attack (76crimes.com)