Roger Jean-Claude Mbede with lawyer Alice Nkom
Gay Cameroonian 'Prisoner of Conscience' Dies

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com January 13 2014 8:18 PM ET

A gay Cameroonian man who had been imprisoned for sending a text message declaring his love for another man has died a month after his family removed him from a hospital, the Associated Press reports.

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, 34, died Friday, according to the AP. Arrested in March 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison soon afterward, he had developed a hernia while incarcerated and was released on medical grounds in July 2012. He sought treatment at a hospital, but his family took him home before he could undergo any procedure for the condition. “His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die,” Alice Nkom, a lawyer who worked on his case, told the AP.

“I accuse the state,” Nkom added. “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.”

Cameroonian activist Lambert Lamba also blamed Mbede’s family. “His family said they were going to remove the homosexuality which is in him,” Lamba told the AP. “I went to see him in his village. He could not stand up, he couldn’t speak.”

Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Mbede may have been prevented from receiving treatment, and therefore urged Cameroonian authorities to investigate his death. “Roger was a courageous man who became an accidental activist after he was arrested simply for expressing his love for another man,” Ghoshal said.

Mbede was arrested for sending a text message to another man, reading “I’m very much in love with you.” He was convicted a month after his arrest, and in December 2012 an appeals court upheld his conviction. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Cameroon’s antigay law provides for prison sentences of up to five years for homosexual acts, and the nation brings more cases against people suspected of being gay than than any other country in Africa, according to Human Rights Watch.