Roger Jean Claude Mbede, 34, the Cameroonian man who was sentenced to three years in prison for sending an amorous text to a male acquaintance, died today in his home village after running out of money to pay for medical care.
During 16 months in prison, Mbede was the focus of an intense international push for his release, including campaigns by Amnesty International and All Out.
He won provisional release on July 16, 2012, for medical treatment of a hernia. He remained free afterward, but in ill health. Because he had become well-known in Cameroon as a homosexual, he usually remained in hiding for his own safety, friends said. For the same reason, he changed his residence three times, they said.
In late 2012, the Central Appeals Court refused to overturn the original lower-court decision that sentenced him to prison. His further appeal of that refusal was pending while he sought continued medical care.
He had one operation in July 2012, which did not cure him, and a second one in late 2013, which went badly, according to LGBT rights activist friends of his.
He lacked money for continued medical care, his activist friends said, so he left the hospital and was taken to his family home in the village of Ngoumou, near Yaoundé. For the last several days he did not eat or drink. He died at about 7 p.m. today.
[See also "Gay man’s family just let him die: Cameroon report."]
“He was not an activist. He was simply a man who was sent to prison for his sexuality,” a friend said.
He was sentenced April 28, 2011, to 36 months in prison and fined 33,000 CFA francs (about €50 or $61) for homosexuality, which under Cameroonian law is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years.
His lawyers, Alice Nkom and Michel Togué, won his provisional release in July 2012 after the court rejected more than a dozen applications.
The following account of Mbede’s life was written shortly after his provisional release in 2012. The author was Eric Lembembe, the journalist/activist who in July 2013 was attacked, tortured and murdered at home while he was in the midst of reporting on a wave of homophobic arrests, arson, and burglary in Cameroon.
Mbede’s story begins in late 2010, when he was studying for a master’s degree in the philosophy of education at the University of Central Africa in Yaoundé. He became acquainted with a senior official serving the president of the Republic of Cameroon, he says. After four months of a friendly relationship and telephone calls, Mbede says he fell into an ambush prepared by the man, who had complained of receiving declarations of love from Mbede.
“On March 2, 2011, he called, asking me to visit him at home. To my surprise, I was greeted there by two policemen who arrested me and took me in a cell under the control of the Secretary of Defense,” Mbede recalls. “For one week, I was subjected to tough interrogations, without knowing what was happening. A few days later, on March 9, the public prosecutor issued a warrant and I was sent to prison the same day. After three hearings, I was sentenced,” he says.
Life is hard in Kondengui Prison, especially when you’re gay. “As you enter the prison, the guards hurl insults at you, such as ‘faggot’ and ‘sorcerer.’ “
Prison conditions there are difficult for everyone — not enough of the uncomfortable beds, unclean water, promiscuity, and diseases such as tuberculosis, diarrhea, and skin diseases, he says.
On top of that comes daily homophobic abuse, both verbal and physical. Inmate complained to the prison superintendent that they would not live with a “faggot” in the same room. After suffering multiple cuts and bruises, Mbede has a scar on his brow from one of many assaults in prison.
Roger Jean Claude Mbede is having a difficult time returning to a normal life after prison for homosexuality.
During his time there, he received help from the Project for the Support and Assistance of Sexual Minorities, or PAEMH, while the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, or ADEFHO, brought him food and provided medical and legal aid. Amnesty International pleaded for his release.
“The PAEMH was very supportive,” he says. “One of its leaders, Lamba Marc Lambert, brought me food to eat and clothes to wear. Without their assistance, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” he says.
He did not hear from his family after his arrest.
Mbede hopes that his conviction will be overturned in an appeal scheduled for Aug. 20. Then he plans to finish his studies, find work and become independent.
“For now,” he says, “I am staying at a friend’s house because my family rejects me.”
“My father told me that I am no longer his son,” Mbede says. “If he had to choose between a madman and me, he says he would choose the madman. My sister, meanwhile, says she would prefer to have a brother who is a thief or other criminal rather than a homosexual.”
As his July 26 hernia operation approaches, Mbede is worried about how he will pay for the surgery. He feels helpless and does not know where to start, he says.
- Gay man’s family just let him die: Cameroon report (76crimes.com)
- Cameroon jail looms for Roger Mbede; death threats for lawyers — December 2012 (76crimes.com)
- Prison for being gay – Roger Mbede loses appeal — December 2012 (76crimes.com)
- UN group urges Cameroon to suspend anti-gay law (76crimes.com)
- Cameroon jails ‘gay’ man for texting ‘I’m in love with you’ to male friend (Guardian.co.uk)
- Gay in Cameroon: after beatings in prison, rejection at home (76 crimes.com)
- Cameroon man appeals 3-year sentence for homosexuality (76crimes.com)
- In Cameroon, a few more days of freedom for Roger Mbede (76crimes.com)