Gay 'prisoner of conscience' dies in Cameroon

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede of Cameroon died after being released from prison. Mbede got arrested in March of 2011 after sending a text message saying "I'm very much in love with you” to another man. Due to the strict laws in Cameroon prohibiting identification as a member of the LGBT community, he got sentenced for 3 years in prison.


While in Prison, Mbede developed a hernia which allowed him a medical leave. While getting treatment at the hospital, his family took him home. Mbede died a month later at the age of 34. Although he was recovering from the hernia, his stay at home worsened his well-being.

"His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die," said his lawyer, Alice Nkom.

"His family said they were going to remove the homosexuality which is in him," said Lamba, a minority activist in Cameroon. "I went to see him in his village. He could not stand up, he couldn't speak."

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede was not the only person in Cameroon who died for being LGBT. Eric Ohena Lembembe, was a prominent LGBT rights activist fighting for equality in Cameroon. He served as an executive director of CAMFAIDS which is a Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS. He also focused on LGBT individuals who experienced violence, blackmail and arrests. In July of 2013, Lembembe’s body was found in his home. He suffered from a broken neck and feet as well as burn marks from an iron.

"Eric was an inspiring activist whose work was deeply appreciated by human rights activists in Cameroon and around the world," said HRW senior LGBT rights researcher Neela Ghoshal.

After the death of Lembembe, Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann filmed a moving documentary about the secret world of the LGBT community in Cameroon.

“We spent nearly three months in Cameroon shooting Born This Way, a documentary about the underground LGBT movement there. We were overwhelmed by the power of the love and courage of those who fight for justice in Cameroon, and the film aims to communicate this. While we never met Eric Lembembe, Yves Yomb and several other heroic activists are featured. Cameroon has consistently been the most egregious violator of rights of gay and lesbian people in the world, imprisoning more people for their perceived sexual orientation than anywhere on the planet” Said the filmmakers.



The stories of both men serve as a reminder of the severity of LGBT inequality around the world and especially in Cameroon.  According to All Africa, although Cameroon remains one of the most repressive nations in terms of LGBT rights, there is a glimpse of hope. Lembembe's murder put pressure on the Cameroonian government to stop ignoring hate crime directed towards members of the LGBT community in Cameroon.