Friends discovered the body of Eric Ohena Lembembe at his home in the capital, Yaounde, on Monday evening after he was unreachable for two days, the rights group said in a statement Tuesday.
One friend said Lembembe’s neck and feet looked broken and that he had been burned with an iron.
Lembembe was among the most prominent activists in one of Africa’s most hostile countries for sexual minorities. First as a journalist and later as executive director of CAMFAIDS, a Yaounde-based human rights organization, he documented violence, blackmail and arrests targeting members of Cameroon’s gay community. He 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.”
Lembembe is the most high-profile African gay rights activist to be killed since 2011, a year that saw the deaths of Uganda’s David Kato and South African lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza.
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.
In 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.
Lembembe 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. – AP