YAOUNDE, Cameroon — Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent LGBT rights advocate and journalist was found dead at his home in Yaoundé, Cameroon on Monday evening.
According to the Human Rights Watch Tuesday, Lembembe’s friends discovered his body at his home after being unable to contact him by telephone for two days.
They found his front door padlocked on the outside, but could see Lembembe’s body lying on his bed through the window.
They alerted Cameroonian police, who broke down the door. According to those present Lembembe’s neck and feet appeared to have been broken, and his face, hands, and feet had been burned with an iron.
“We don’t know who killed Eric Lembembe, or why he was killed, but one thing is clear: the Cameroonian authorities’ utter failure to stem homophobic violence sends the message that these attacks can be carried out with impunity,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at HRW.
“The police should not rest until the perpetrators of this horrific crime are brought to justice. President Biya should break his silence on the wave of homophobic violence in Cameroon and publicly condemn this brutal attack,” added Ghoshal.
Lembembe was among the most prominent activists in one of Africa’s most hostile countries for sexual minorities. Homosexuality is punishable by prison terms of up to five years in Cameroon, and the country prosecutes more people for gay sex than any other in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Human Rights Watch.
First as a journalist and later as executive director of CAMFAIDS, a Yaounde-based human rights organization, Lembembe documented violence, blackmail and arrests targeting members of Cameroon’s gay community.
He was among the first activists in the country to mobilize following a sharp increase in anti-gay prosecutions beginning in 2005, said Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroon, a gay rights group based in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala. A local office of the group was set on fire June 26, Harf said in her statement.
“It is a big loss for our community, and we are a bit scared about what can happen to us,” Yomb said. “He was one of the leaders of this community. So what can happen to the other leaders?”
Lembembe was also a regular contributor to the Erasing 76 Crimes blog, which focuses on countries where homosexuality is illegal, and he wrote several chapters of a book released in February on the global gay rights movement titled “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”
“Eric was a courageous, diligent colleague who worked hard as a reporter to expose the evils that are abroad in Cameroon, even while he worked as an activist to inform the oppressed LGBT people of that nation and to protect their rights,” Colin Stewart, author of the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights,” and editor of “Erasing 76 Crimes,” told LGBTQ Nation on Tuesday.
“His energy, his clarity, his guiding hand and good deeds will be greatly missed,” said Stewart.
Article continues belowIn a statement, a U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman deplored Lembembe’s murder. “We condemn this terrible act in the strongest terms and urge the Cameroonian authorities to thoroughly and promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible for his death,” Marie Harf said.
Ghoshal said that while the initial steps of an investigation appeared to be underway, it was unclear whether officials would follow through.
Lembembe’s killing follows several attacks LGBT rights advocates in Cameroon.
In June 2013, unidentified assailants torched the headquarters of Alternatives-Cameroon, which provides HIV services to LGBT people in Douala, the country’s second largest city.
In another incident last month, human rights lawyer Michel Togué, who represents clients charged with homosexuality, was robbed, and his legal files and laptop stolen.
Both Togué and Alice Nkom, another lawyer who represents LGBT clients, have reportedly received repeated death threats by email and SMS, including threats to kill their children.