Michel Togué

A Cameroonian lawyer has appealed for asylum for his family in the US after receiving death threats for defending gays and lesbians in court.

Human Rights Watch recently highlighted the plight of Michel Togué, who succeeded in having homosexuality convictions against Franky Djome and Jonas Singa Kumie overturned in January.

They were originally sentenced to five years in prison by a judge, primarily on the basis of what they wore, how they behaved and because they drank Bailey’s Irish Cream, which he believed proved that they were gay.

Togué, along with fellow human rights lawyer Alice Nkom, has received death threats relating to his work since October last year.

One message warned him to stop “defending your faggot ideas,” or risk being “at the bedside of one of your dying children”.

Togué sent his family to the US in November in response, and has since joined them there, although he continues to receive threatening messages even while overseas.

“They say they are going to kidnap my children, that they’ll turn them into queers. I feel very vulnerable,” he told AFP.

Togué is now applying for asylum for his family in the US, but plans to return to Cameroon to continue his work.

“It would be cowardly to give up, it’s my duty to defend human rights and to contribute to a more tolerant Cameroon,” he said.

Togué has been praised by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for fighting “tirelessly to defend LGBT persons”. She also applauded “his commitment and his courage”.

Consensual same-sex conduct is criminalised under the Cameroonian penal code, and at least 28 people have been prosecuted under the law since 2010. According to Human Rights Watch, Nkom and Togué are among the only lawyers courageous enough to take up these cases in a country where homophobia is pervasive.

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