Life harder for Cameroon gays since activist's killing

Published: August 14, 2013

 LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Life has become even harder for gays in Cameroon and death threats more common since a prominent gay rights campaigner was brutally killed a month ago, one of the country’s leading lawyers said.

Eric Ohena Lembembe, who had been fighting to legalise homosexuality in the central African country, was found by friends in his home in the capital Yaounde on July 15. His neck was broken, his feet smashed and his face burned with an iron, according to Human Rights Watch.
Alice Nkom, one of the few lawyers in Cameroon willing to represent men and women accused of homosexuality, said she and colleagues had voiced major concerns about the way the case was being handled.
"Sadly, the government’s reaction was defensive: ‘How can you tell that to the international press? You stain the image of Cameroon abroad’," Nkom told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Cameroon.
"But that wasn’t our intention, to stain anything. We simply wanted the police to gather evidence so that Eric’s death does not go unpunished."
According to Lembembe’s friends, police officers who were called to the scene made no attempt to collect evidence or take photos before the body was taken to the morgue, Nkom said.
"As far as I know, no culprit has been arrested," she added.   
Nkom said that since Cameroon’s minister of communications rebuked activists for accusing the government of being lax in its response to the case, there has been an increase in threats sent to young men warning them that "you’re second on the list".
"The situation has become worse (for gays). The authorities haven’t even issued a statement to condemn the crime. On the contrary, you now have young men who receive death threats on their mobile phones and are forced to behave as if they were in a thriller, and go into hiding," Nkom said.
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