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How Saying ‘I Love You’ in a Text Message Got this Gay Man Killed

How Saying ‘I Love You’ in a Text Message Got this Gay Man Killed

A Cameroon man jailed for sending a loving text message to another man has died after his family withdrew him from medical treatment, his lawyers have told the press.

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, 34, is reported to have died on Friday, January 9, of health complications surrounding a failure to have proper treatment for a hernia. Mbede had been receiving hospital care for the hernia but his family, who seem to have been given the power to discontinue his care, decided that he as a gay man was not worthy of being saved. ”His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die,” Mbede’s lawyer is quoted as saying.

Mbede was arrested in March 2011, after sending a text message to another man which reportedly read “I’m very much in love with you.” When that text message was shown to the authorities, Mbede was convicted to a three year jail term despite a lack of evidence that Mbede had ever committed any offense. Mbede, who had suffered ill health while awaiting sentencing, said during his incarceration:

“I am not sure I can put up with the anti-gay attacks and harassment I underwent at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of my perceived and unproven sexual orientation. The justice system in this country is just so unfair.”

Mbede’s story went viral, with rights agencies across the globe designating him a “prisoner of conscience.”

While Uganda and Nigeria have received a great deal of attention for their anti-gay laws, Cameroon is known as having one of the highest conviction rates for gay people. The state’s law bans same-sex sexual acts under Section 347 of the penal code. It proscribes a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment and a potential fine between 20,000  to 200,000 CFD.

Unsurprisingly, Cameroon’s infamous jail conditions did Mbede no favors and in July 2012 he developed a hernia for which he was granted a provisional release. An appeals court upheld his original conviction and in December 2012 Mbede was sent back to prison.

At the time of his incarceration his family, which is on record as saying they wanted to rid Mbede of homosexuality, largely disowned him. That they now may have blocked Mbede from receiving vital hospital treatment has sparked outrage, with Neela Ghashal of Human Rights Watch calling on Cameroon’s authorities to investigate Mbede’s death and whether he was illegally barred from receiving medical treatment.

“Roger was a courageous man who became an accidental activist after he was arrested simply for expressing his love for another man,” Ghoshal is quoted as saying.

One thing is clear here: had Cameroon’s draconian laws not intruded so violently into Mbede’s personal life and then sent him to prison for no other reason than his expressing love for someone of the same-sex, Mbede may never have sustained the injury that caused his eventually fatal condition or, at the very least, he would have been able to seek proper treatment.

Mbede’s story serves as an example of how Cameroon’s anti-homosexuality laws can devastate lives. In a report entitled Guilty by Association and released in March 2013, Human Rights Watch attempted to draw attention to this fact. The report notes that Cameroon’s authorities very rarely scrutinize offenses surrounding homosexuality and that people can be convicted based on little to no evidence. The report also outlines how the law is abused so that people could be removed from public life, and that the anti-homosexuality law also spawns cases of bribery and violence.

As many nations in the world take steps toward recognizing the rights of LGBT people, many Sub-Saharan African nations appear to be taking steps the other way, actively criminalizing their LGBT populations and, like in Nigeria’s case, seeking new ways to devastate the community. How can this be stopped?

There’s no easy answer to this kind of mistreatment, but we can start at home. It is certainly true that religious conservatives, finding their anti-gay crusade losing ground in the US and places like the UK, have begun exporting their anti-gay politics to Africa and certain European nations where it appears to marry up well with colonial laws or archaic anti-LGBT sensibilities. Scott Lively is one example. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, what with his latest forays into Europe and possibly beyond, is another.

While it is next to impossible to stop these groups exporting this ideology, shedding light on their actions and the actions of governments that are supporting this kind of persecution is necessary in order to ensure that we are not giving these groups a free pass and that people working within hostile countries to improve human rights know there is help readily available and a world of support on which they can draw.

In this way, talking about Mbede’s tragic story matters. It’s vital, in fact, because it serves as an example of the consequences of exporting, stoking and turning a blind eye to such hate. So for now, let Cameroon be known as the country that killed a man, and all for saying the words “I’m very much in love with you.”

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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76 comments

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7:09PM PST on Jan 24, 2014

Tragic, I have a gay daughter and I could never do this to her. That poor man's family are scum as are the government that allow this.

4:35AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

and then???

12:58AM PST on Jan 22, 2014

So Very Sad !

1:06AM PST on Jan 21, 2014

Very sad!

8:00PM PST on Jan 20, 2014

Stuff like this should not even be happening. People need to stop being so narrow minded.

12:13PM PST on Jan 20, 2014

If this story is true it's one in a long line of heartbreaking and infuriating stories about gay folks harmed by prejudice and oppression. I blame this wave of hate directed toward gay people in Africa on the white evangelical missionaries who have spread all over the continent poisoning minds.

11:49AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

So ugly.

9:24AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

So wrong.

4:08AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

Given how much hatred and homophobia abounds in the Western world where laws exist to protect gay people it is hardly surprising that there is even more in countries where the attitudes are positively hostile (and actually fly in the face of their history: in many tribes and cultures young men were encouraged in homosexual acts to mitigate their desires until they were accepted as man enough to take a wife - which had nothing to do with age but having proven themselves to be capable of contributing in full to the tribe).
It is the pernicious influence of religion, pure and simple, that is behind the anti-gay bigotry: be it the Q'ran or the Bible - they are homophobic texts that are seized upon by the hard of thinking to justify their prejudices.

2:10AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

More hatred and homophobia in Africa, not exactly a shock, is it?

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