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Cameroonian LGBT Advocate, Dubbed 'The Devil's Lawyer' By Opponents, Is An Ally Worth Honoring

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For the better part of the last decade Alice Nkom, a Cameroonian lawyer, has been doing everything in her power to strike down Article 347 of Cameroon’s penal code. Article 347, like many of the antiquated morality laws first created under colonial rule, punishes consenting adults who engaging in same-sex sexual activities. Currently Nkom is in the process of challenging Article 347’s constitutionality through in two separate cases being presented to Cameroon’s Supreme Court.

“If we unite our efforts and our resources, we will get the supreme court to join the other supreme courts in the world to firmly condemn the use of Article 347 as a basis for legal action or verdicts,” Nkom said to The Guardian. “I need everyone because right now, I am a little isolated. It’s on occasions like this that we must show we are one, united, universal in this fight.”

MbedeBoth of the cases Nkom has decide to throw her weight behind stem from seemingly innocuous situations. Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé (pictured right with Nkom), who is now dead, was arrested in 2011 after professing his love for another man via text message. In 2012, two other Cameroonian men were detained by local police for their outwardly feminine gender presentation. Nkom is representing both of these cases to the Cameroonian Supreme Court in an effort to shed light on the country’s mistreatment of its queer population. 

Her actions have earned her the title of  “the devil’s lawyer” from opponents who view her defense of LGBT rights as an a sin. In Nkom’s mind, however, she’s merely fighting against a longstanding, illegal overreach of the Executive Branch of Cameroon’s powers. 

“Even in Europe, when we look at the countries that penalise homosexuality today, and I am thinking of Russia, we see that the problem is an absence of democracy,” she said. “The two are linked.”

Nkom hopes that drawing more global attention to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights will bring the support Cameroon’s sizable LGBT population needs to properly defend itself from dubious legal charges.

“This is a fight for human rights. Its does not pit African traditions against western traditions or the colonised against colonizers,” she explained. “Africa has the same universal values and belongs to humanity. It is not separate, and neither is Cameroon.”


Seven Gay Cameroonian Men Arrested During Police Raid

CameroonSeven gay men were arrested in Cameroon last week after being caught at a party during a police raid. Authorities reported discovering guests of the party actively participating in “prostitution and homosexual acts,” a punishable offense under Cameroon’s penal code. Those persecuted under article 347, which relates specifically to homosexuality, run the risk of being imprisoned for up to five years for having “sexual relations between persons of the same sex.”

The raid and arrests come after a months-long moratorium on the Cameroonian police harassing LGBT individuals gathering in private, according to 76crimes. Police were made aware of the gathering after neighbors of the host called in with concerns about the home being frequented by “effeminate homosexuals.” The unnamed owner of the house and another guest narrowly avoided arrest by fleeing to the roof of the home and escaping from the premises.

Cameroonian laws regarding LGBT individuals have been called into question by both Human Rights watch and Amnesty International for being grounded in homophobic stereotypes and trickery.

“Lesbians, gay men, men who sleep with men, women who sleep with women, men who act that way — all that is illegal,” said Donatus Sembe, lead officer behind the arrests. “These are people who are controlled by an evil spirit.”


Cameroon's Anti-gay Laws Often Invoked Based On Stereotypes and Trickery Rather Than 'Sexual Relations'

Michel-TogueAnti-gay legislation in Cameroon is meant to punish "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" and can result in prison sentences up to five years in length. One attorney, Michel Togue (right), is speaking out against the injustice not only of the law itself, but also the shoddy, treacherous ways in which it is reinforced. According to Togue, article 347 of the Cameroon penal code is more often than not invoked based on stereotyping and entrapment.

Think Progress reports:

Togue told ThinkProgress that of the dozens of such cases he has represented, very few people were actually caught in the act of actually having sex. Once an accusation of homosexuality is made, police make arrests based solely on how individuals present themselves. For example, if a man is found to be cross-dressing, that could be used as proof that he is gay in court. If somebody has a job that doesn’t fit their gender, like a male hairdresser, that too could be used against them. A judge convicted one of Togue’s clients for feminine mannerisms and for drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, which he felt only a woman would drink...

Cameroon2One of the most high-profile cases was that of Jean-Claude Roger Mbede (left), who texted a picture of himself holding a sign that read, “I’m very much in love w/u” to another man. The recipient reported the image to the police as “sexual harassment,” then invited Mbede over to his home, where the police were waiting to arrest him. Mbede was sentenced to three years in prison. “If Roger was sentenced as a homosexual,” Togue asked, “with whom did he have sex?” Mbede was provisionally released on medical grounds in 2012 and went into hiding; he died earlier this year after he could no longer afford hospital treatment for a hernia.

While the widespread misuse of the penal code is disturbing, the reinforcement of anti-gay laws by the Catholic church is spreading a message of hate further than it would otherwise reach. in 2013, bishops from around the country issued a statement reading: "homosexuality opposes humanity and destroys it." The cultural ramifications of such fear-mongering are incredibly dangerous.

This stigma is also having a negative impact on health care in the country, particularly when it comes to HIV outreach. “They can’t go to the hospital for the treatment or even for a test because they’re afraid,” Togue explained. He knows of at least one case where an individual admitted to a nurse that he’d had same-sex relations and she called the police on him.

CameroonTogue remains hopeful, however, and believes that the work of LGBT organizations in Cameroon could positively impact the cultural milieu surrounding homosexual identity.

Togue hopes that local organizations in Cameroon will help people learn that “a homosexual is our friend, is our brother, is our sister, is part of our family — is not a stranger, not someone coming from outside.”

Image of Togue via Global Rights.


Cameroonian Man Jailed for Homosexuality Dies After Being Removed From Hospital

Mbede, nkom

A gay man in Cameroon who was jailed for sending a text message to another man saying “I’m very much in love with you” has died after his family removed him from a hospital where he had sought treatment for medical complications brought on by his stay in prison. The AP reports:

CameroonRoger Jean-Claude Mbede [above, left], 34, died on Friday after his family removed him from the hospital where he had been seeking treatment for a hernia, lawyer Alice Nkom [right] said.

"His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die," she said.

Mbede was arrested in March 2011, and given a three-year sentence the following month.

The AP adds:

Cameroon brings more cases against suspected homosexuals than any other African country, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group said in a March 2013 report that at least 28 people had been charged under the law in the past three years.

Mbede developed the hernia while in prison. In July 2012 he was granted provisional release on medical grounds, according to Human Rights Watch, and went into hiding. An appeals court upheld his conviction in December 2012.

International human rights activists have called on Cameroonian police to investigate Mbede's death in light of reports that he may have been barred from receiving medical treatment. 

Mbede had been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. 


Chris Brown Tweets Support for Gay Rights

Chris_brown

Singer Chris Brown tweeted his support for gay rights on Monday, along with a link to an AllOut petition to help gays under attack in the African nation of Cameroon.

Wrote Brown: "Love is not a crime. Gay or straight. Love who u wanna love. Stop the hate & sign here http://bit.ly/19BPAbF   #Unity"

Brown has been under fire in the past for using anti-gay slurs. In June, however, he announced a single in support of a UNITY campaign encouraging "all races, genders, sexes, (everyone) gay or straight  to love each other!"


Three Held For Questioning In Eric Ohena Lembembe Murder

The three were detained yesterday in relation to the brutal murder earlier this month.

The AFP reports:

6a00d8341c730253ef01910455ebc2970c-800wiThe three who were ordered held by criminal investigators in Yaounde are former colleagues of the activist, a lawyer close to the case told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

"We don't know what the police found," he added. Alice Nkom, lawyer for the Lembembe family, denounced what she called a botched investigation and cast doubt on the decision to question the three.

"Since we formulated reservations over how the investigation was conducted, they want to find any 'guilty ones,'" Nkom said. An officer close to the probe appeared to dismiss suggestions that the attack was homophobic. "We were at the scene of the murder. We have found a certain number of clues. There will be a rapid unfolding of events and people who believe it was a homophobic act risk being surprised," he said.


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