Grieving friends and allies of gay rights icon Roger Mbede are calling for an investigation into his family’s role in his death on Jan. 10.
After Mbede, 34, left a hospital in Yaoundé last month, he was reportedly denied access to health care and was confined by his family to one room in their home village of Ngoumou.
Mbede had not been in good health since he was sentenced to three years in prison in early 2011 on homosexuality charges for sending an amorous text to a male friend. During that time, he gained international recognition as Amnesty International campaigned for his release. The following account of Mbede’s final days comes from human rights defenders in Cameroon and abroad:
Last week, almost a month after Mbede left the hospital, his friend Lambert Lamba had heard nothing from him, so Lamba went to Ngoumou on Jan. 7 to find out what was going on. He found that Mbede could no longer stand or speak.
In the village, Lamba was surrounded by 40 men who threatened him. They said that Mbede had to die because he was evil. Once he was dead, his family would be clean again, they said.
Except for Mbede’s mother and brother Noel, his family agreed with that mob.
“His family said they were going to remove the homosexuality which is in him,” Lamba said.
“He was knowingly left without care because, in the eyes of his family, he was possessed by the devil,” said Saskia Ditisheim, a former attorney for Mbede and head of the Swiss branch of Lawyers Without Borders..
Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that Cameroonian police should investigate whether Mbede died because he was denied medical treatment.
A criminal complaint will be filed to as a means of seeking an investigation into the circumstances of Mbede’s death, Ditisheim said.
After he returned to Yaoundé, Lamba sought help from supporters of Mbede. He did not want to return to the village on his own, fearing for his life because of the threats he had encountered there. For protection, he arranged for friends in the military to go with him. He was given money for an ambulance to travel there with him, in hopes that it would be able to bring Mbede back for further treatment in Yaoundé.
But before he could return to Ngoumou, he learned that Mbede had died.
Mbede had not been good health after his 16 months in prison. He won conditional release in 2012 to undergo an operation to treat a hernia in his groin. He later had a second operation on the hernia in July 2103, according to Ditisheim. Although that operation seemed to go well, Mbede was still ailing.
He was scheduled to be buried on Jan. 13, without an autopsy.