YOUNDE, Cameroon — Police in Cameroon have refused to release two LGBT activists detained on Saturday as potential witnesses in the investigation of the murder of activist and journalist Eric Lembembe.
Michel Engama, finance officer of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) was among those arrested, according to Dominique Menoga, Director of CAMFAIDS, the group founded by Lembembe.
No charges have been filed against Engama, or against another detained colleague whose identity was withheld upon request. The two are being held at the Yaoundé police station, and officials have so far refused pleas for their release by attorney and human rights defender Michel Togué.
Police arrested Engama, his colleague, and a third unidentified man who testified he saw Lembembe with Engama and his colleague on the night of July 12 — the last day Lembembe was seen alive.
The third man was released after admitting that he had been drunk on the night he testified about.
Engama was one of the activists who discovered Lembembe body.
While the activists were in custody, police searched their apartments and found condoms and lubricants that they took as evidence of homosexual activity, which is punishable in Cameroon by up to five years in prison.
The activists told them that the items had a different use: They are needed for educational programs sponsored by CAMFAIDS to instruct people in Yaoundé on how to avoid becoming infected with HIV.
Human rights attorney Alice Nkom, who is representing Lembembe’s family, said that police are trying frame Lembembe’s murder on anyone, “no matter whom,” reported the LGBT advocacy blog 76 Crimes.
The arrests could complicate the preparations for Lembembe’s funeral, currently planned for this coming Saturday.
Meanwhile, local press in Cameroon have been publishing anti-gay articles, one alleging the country’s government is “polluted with homosexuals” and that it actively “colludes” with the LGBT community in Yaoundé, profiting financially from their “trade.”
Menoga told LGBTQ Nation that both journalists and religious leaders are leading a concerted anti-gay hate campaign, which is creating a climate of fear among the country’s LGBT community.
According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, Cameroon is one of the most violently homophobic nations in the world and actively arrests more gays than any other nation.
The Cameroonian government has so far refused to condemn Lembembe’s murder, and his lawyer complained that police did not care enough about the case to collect evidence from the scene of the crime.
Update, 7/30/2013: Associated Press reports that Michel Togue said the two employees, Michel Engama and and his colleague were released Tuesday afternoon without charge.