Human rights lawyer says life is getting worse for gay people in Cameroon

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Cameroonian human rights lawyer Alice Nkom says life has become even harder for Cameroon’s gay population following the murder of LGBT rights campaigner Eric Ohena Lembembe.

The body of Mr Lembemb was found at his home in Cameroon’s capital city Yaounde in July.

He was the executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS).

One of his friend said his neck and feet had been broken, and that he had been burned with an iron.

Alice Nkom, who has faced threats in Cameroon because of her gay advocacy work, is concerned about the way the case is 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’,” Ms Nkom told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Katie Ngyuen 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.”

A spokesman for Cameroon’s government criticised foreign journalists for reporting the killing in July – saying it was “dragging” the country’s image “into the mud”.

So far no charges have been made in relation to Mr Lembemb’s death.

Ms Nkom added: “The situation has become worse (for gays and lesbian). 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.”

Amnesty International says arrests under article 347 of Cameroon’s penal code – which punishes “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” with up to five years in prison – have increased since 2005.

According to a March 2013 report by Human Rights Watch, Cameroon has prosecuted at least 28 people for same-sex activity since 2010.