Death threats force LGBT defender to flee to U.S.

Michel Togue (Photo courtesy of Council of Global Equality)
Michel Togue (Photo courtesy of Council of Global Equality)

Lawyer Michel Togue has moved his family from Cameroon to the United States for protection after receiving death threats because of his work for gay defendants.

Togue said he hopes to return to Cameroon on his own to resume that work.

“It’s my duty to defend human rights and to contribute to a more tolerant Cameroon. It would be cowardly to give up,” he told Agence France-Presse.

In Cameroon, homosexual activity is punishable by up to five years in prison. At the beginning of 2013, at least seven people were imprisoned in Cameroon on homosexuality-related charges and another 15 were free while awaiting trial.

In Cameroon, he told AFP, “Homophobia is on the rise, and intolerance is growing.”

Togue’s most prominent recent client is Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who is appealing three-year prison sentence that stemmed from an amorous text message that he sent to a seemingly friendly man.

Togue called Cameroon’s rejection of Mbede’s appeals “a tragedy.” AFP reported:

Last year, Mr Togue’s family started receiving threatening messages through calls, text messages and emails. They included an email which showed photographs of his children leaving school, and phone calls asking Mr Togue’s wife “which of her children she would sacrifice so her husband will give up defending homosexuals.”

Mr Togue’s family left Cameroon to seek asylum in the US in November, and he himself joined them in January. He said that he had received support from the French Embassy in Cameroon, but his family had gone to the US as it “was the first to react” by giving them temporary residence.

The family still receive threats in the US: “They say they are going to kidnap my children, that they’ll turn them into queers. I feel very vulnerable,” Mr Togue told the AFP. …

While in the US Mr Togue has met with the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to discuss LGBT rights in Cameroon.

Hilary Clinton is among the public figures to have praised Mr Togue, saying he “has fought tirelessly to defend LGBT persons… we greatly applaud his commitment and his courage.”

Togue’s attorney colleague, Alice Nkom, has also received death threats. She has remained in Cameroon.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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