Family of Gay Cameroon Activist Roger Mbede Lets Him Die

| by Allison Geller

A gay man in Cameroon was jailed and subsequently died from persecution by the law and his family, who refused to allow him treatment for a fatal hernia.

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, 34, was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International after being arrested in March 2011 for sending a text message to another man that read “I'm very much in love with you," according to the Associated Press.

Mbede received a three-year sentence in a court system that can punish its citizens for up to five years for homosexual acts. Human Rights Watch reports that Cameroon accuses more gays than any another African country.

He developed a hernia in prison and was granted provisional release to seek treatment in July 2012. He then went into hiding. An appeal upheld his conviction in December of that year.

Mbede's family allegedly removed him from the hospital where he was seeking treatment, according to his lawyer, Alice Nkom. 

"His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die," Nkom said.

"I accuse the state," said Nkom, one of Cameroon’s few lawyers who defend gay people persecuted by the country’s laws. "If there had not been criminalization of homosexuality, he would not have gone to prison and his life would not be over. His life was finished as soon as he went to prison."

Agence France-Press reported that Mbede was suffering from testicular cancer.

“Roger died on Friday evening, probably from his illness,” said lawyer Saskia Ditisheim.

Cameroon has come under fire for its anti-gay policies, ignoring the U.N. Human Rights Council and other international recommendations that they protect sexual minorities. A prominent gay rights activist was found tortured and killed last year because of his “personal life,” according to Anatole Nkou, Cameroon’s ambassador to Geneva.

“Roger was the symbol for the gay rights struggle in Cameroon,” Ditisheim said.

Human Rights Watch called Mbede “a courageous man who became an accidental activist” after he was arrested simply for expressing his love for another man.

Sources: Associated PressAgence France-Press