Disturbing news from the Central African nation of Cameroon, where noted human rights lawyer Alice Nkom, who successfully freed more than a dozen imprisoned gay men and founded the Association to Defend Homosexuals (ADEFHO), could be arrested within days.
An official with Cameroon's Ministry of Communication appeared on French television Canal + (translation) on Sunday and said Ms. Nkom was guilty of crimes against Cameroon's "law, sovereignty, and independence." The alleged crime: Successfully applying for a €300,000 [USD $390,000] grant from the European Union to combat homophobia in Cameroon.
Detractors claim that the European Union is financing a project whose activities are illegal under Cameroonian law, making the European Union complicit and equally responsible for any crimes committed. Human rights advocates note, on the other hand, that although homosexual acts are illegal in Cameroon, LGBT identities are not criminalized. Work with LGBT people, therefore, remains legal as long as it does not include or promote same-sex sexual acts.
On January 7, a spokesperson for a coalition of youth organizations declared a "fatwa" against LGBT people in Cameroon, calling on youth to "track them, denounce them, without any pity, not a single bit." [They have] threatened mass protests outside of the European Union office in Cameroon and called upon the government to block the transfer of the money to Ms. Nkom's organization. He has also called for the arrest of the European Union representative. The momentum against Ms. Nkom and her organization is growing and has taken a more sinister turn with the televised statements from the Minister of Communication representative, accusing Ms. Nkom of criminal behavior.
"We must remain vigilant for her safety," says Charles Gueboguo, African scholar and author of a book-length study on homosexuality in Cameroon. "She is the only lawyer operating in Cameroon who defends the rights of LGBT people, work that she does pro bono. Now her outspokenness has made her a challenge to the government's homophobic policies, so they want to shut her up."
Ms. Nkom herself is worried but taking the news in stride. "Do not worry for me," she wrote in an e-mail to a group of Cameroon's leading gay rights activists. "I believe I will be arrested in the coming days, but I will not lose sleep over this or, especially, abandon what we have begun together."
The fatwa poster is from a rabidly anti-gay Cameroonian blog.
Via Google Translation, Attorney Alice Nkom tells French homostyle glossy Têtu: "'I get death threats and physical assaults.' When asked if she is the subject of a 'fatwa' as some suggest, she responds 'You never know what happens in the mind of an extremist. Fanaticism .... can lead people to commit irreversibly silly, stupid [things].'"
Cameroon boasts one of the Africa's more repressive anti-LGBT regimes. The central African nation has become infamous for routinely subjecting men accused of sodomy to legal ordeals that continue for years. Alice Nkom—previously mentioned on Rod 2.0 HERE and HERE—captured international attention in 2005 and 2006 when she successfully freed the Yaoundé 11, who were arrested in a June 2005 raid on a gay bar and served a year behind bars. In 2007 she discovered an imprisoned gay man who was held for two years without trial. He was later released.
Cameroon Sentences Journalist to 6 Months
Cameroon Sentences Three for Homosexuality
Gay Man Imprisoned for Two Years Without Trial
"Homosexuelle en Afrique"
Cameroon Gay Man Re-Arrested
UN Condemns Cameroon Anti-Gay Laws
Yaoundé 11 Free?