Prominent Cameroonian gay rights activist and executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS Eric Ohena Lembembe was found dead in his Yaoundé home on Monday night. His body showed extensive signs of torture.
Lembembe was a leading voice for lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people in Cameroon, fighting to tell the stories of LGBT people and organizations facing arrests, violence, and blackmail.
"The global movement for love and equality is poorer for the loss of Eric Lembembe, because brave activists like him in Cameroon, and other countries where it's illegal to be gay, are an inspiration to human rights defenders everywhere," said Andre Banks, Executive Director and Co-Founder of All Out.
Fighting against brutal homophobia, Eric worked towards a day when Cameroonians did not have to live in fear because of who they are or who they love. To honor his commitment and his life, we call on President Biya to make sure these violent, deadly attacks against LGBT people do not continue, starting with the investigation of Eric Lembembe's death.
According to Human Rights Watch, friends found Lembembe's body after he had been unreachable for two days. One friend reported that his neck and feet appeared broken, and that his face, hands, and feet had been burned.
The torture and murder of Lembembe comes during a period of violent anti-gay attacks against advocates working for equal rights for LGBT people in the country.
Last month, arsonists set fire to the offices of Alternatives-Cameroon, a center that serves LGBT people with medical care in Douala. A few days earlier, the office of Michel Togué, a human rights lawyer defending clients charged with "same sex conduct," was burgled. He also received repeated death threats.
Just two weeks before his death, Lemembe decried these recent attacks on human rights defenders in Cameroon. "There is no doubt: anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity," Lemembe wrote in a statement published by Human Rights Watch.
"Unfortunately, a climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes," Lembembe wrote.
Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal, prosecutes more people for homosexual activities than any other sub-Saharan African country, according to Human Rights Watch. Homosexuality is punishable by prison terms between six months and five years, and cases like Lembembe's can go uninvestigated and unpunished.
Last year, 130,000 people signed an All Out petition calling on the Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Minister of Justice Laurent Esso to reverse the the three year jail sentence for Roger Jean-Claude Mbede. In 2012, Roger was found guilty of a crime for sending a text message to another man that said, "I'm very much in love with you." The petition also called for a moratorium on the laws that sent Roger to jail in the first place. Roger was charged and convicted under Cameroon's law that criminalizes "homosexual behavior."
"We are deeply saddened by this tremendous loss to our community," Andre Banks said. "Our hearts are with Eric's close loved ones. We will not rest until there is justice."
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