Eric Ohena Lembembe was found dead in his home in Yaoundé, the nation’s capital, on Monday, having been uncontactable for several days. Reports from eyewitnesses suggest Lembembe was tortured.
Lembembe was the Executive Director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, a group formed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and fight for LGBT rights in the west African nation. In the weeks before his death Lembembe issued a public warning about the threat of “anti-gay thugs” who posed a danger to LGBT Cameroonians.
“There is no doubt – anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 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 said on July 1.
Lembembe was also a regular contributor to the website Erasing 76 Crimes, a weblog dedicated to documenting and combating anti-LGBT hate crimes and state persecution in the 76 countries where homosexuality is still a criminal offence. On June 19 Lembembe documented the violent invasion of an International Day Against Homophobia Day (IDAHO) rally in Yaoundé.
“Everyone panics. Some people run behind the podium, looking for an emergency door. Others hide under tables. The organizers call out, trying to restore calm. Some people get away. Others not. Some are caught and beaten by the gang of gay bashers,” Lembembe wrote.
Executive director of Douala-based LGBT rights group Alternatives-Cameroon Yves Yomb said Lembembe’s death was “a big loss for our community”.
“He was very, very, very active in the fight for LGBT rights in Cameroon. In his work as a journalist, when he wanted to have information he would call you until you gave him the information that he needed,” Yomb said.
Foreign governments and LGBT rights agencies reacted with horror to the news, with the US State Department describing Lembembe’s murder as “a terrible act”.
“We will continue to support activists, like Mr. Lembembe, who stand up for the human rights of all people, regardless of who they are or who they love,” the State Department said.
The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS condemned the killing and urged the Cameroonian government to “pursue a thorough investigation” into Lembembe’s death.
Male and female same-sex activity is illegal and punishable by up to five years imprisonment in Cameroon.