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Cameroon Urged to Assure Protection Following Death of Gay Activist

The Cameroon Association for the Defense of Homosexuality and lawyers defending gay rights are calling on Cameroon's government to assure them of their protection after a gay rights activist and journalist, Eric Ohena Lembembe, was found dead in his home. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Lembembe was tortured and killed. Many gay people said it is becoming impossible for them to have freedom in Cameroon.

The body of Eric Ohena Lembembe is at the Yaounde mortuary. The gay activist was found dead last Monday on his bed at his home. His partner, Frederick Mveng, told VOA that he thinks Lembembe was killed three days before the body was discovered.

He said they tried to call Lembembe's phone number on Saturday morning, after last seeing him Friday night, but there was no answer and they decided to look for him at his home. He said when they arrived, his door was locked with a padlock from the outside. Mvveng said he looked through the window and saw the body.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement, calls the death a murder. An HRW official said authorities were investigating and taking statements.

Nkom Alice, a 65-year-old woman who has been a very prominent gay lawyer in Cameroon, told VOA that she has been terrified over the death of Lembembe, whom she calls her son. "I feel shocked. I am really traumatized by this terrified news about the assassination of my son Eric," she said.

This year, a report from Human Rights Watch stated that most people who have been arrested for suspected homosexual relations in Cameroon suffer what HRW calls " grave human rights violations."

Nkom Alice said activists have complained, but in vain. "We are not free in our country. We are not in a state of law. We are afraid because we are not backed by our state and the authorities in our state which is not normal, which is against all engagements to protect people here," Alice stated.

Activists charge the authorities with abuses including torture, forced confessions, denial of access to legal counsel, and discriminatory treatment by law enforcement and judicial officials.

Joseph Panje, a legal practitioner in Cameroon, was asked about the alleged government persecution of gays. "For them to live in peace, they should go to jurisdictions and countries where those things are allowed," he responded.

Churches have also been preaching against intimate same-sex relations in Cameroon.

Pastor Paul Ngongang of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon said church officials don't support any form of torture, but they will never accept homosexual practices because he said they are demonic. "God was not a fool to say for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to the wife and the two shall become one flesh," he said.

The death of the gay activist was reported barely two weeks after the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Cameroon and raised concerns over the criminalization of homosexuality.

Gay sex is punishable by up to five years in prison in Cameroon. Gay activists have been asking the government to protect them by doing away with such laws which they say disrespect their rights.