Jul. 16 (GIN) – Friends discovered the body of prominent gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe at his home in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, this week after he was unreachable for two days, according to a release by the group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), Lembembe was an outspoken activist and journalist who defended the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.

Lembembe’s neck and feet were said to be broken and his face, hands and feet had been burned with an iron.

Lembembe contributed to the blog “Erasing 76 Crimes,” which spotlights countries where homosexuality is illegal, and wrote several chapters in a book released in February on the global gay rights movement titled “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

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 HRW.

“It is a big loss for our community, and we are a bit scared about what can happen to us,” said Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroon, a gay rights group that provides HIV services. “He was one of the leaders of this community. So what can happen to the other leaders?”

In other suspected homophobic attacks, the headquarters of Alternatives-Cameroun was burned down on June 26; the Yaounde office of human rights lawyer Michel Togue, who represents clients charged with same-sex conduct, was burgled and his legal files and laptop stolen; and Mr Togue and Alice Nkom, another lawyer who represents gay and lesbian people, have received repeated death threats by email and SMS, including threats to kill their children.

“There is no doubt: anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Lembembe said on July 1. “Unfortunately, a climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”

“We don’t know who killed Eric Lembembe or why he was killed,” said HRW researcher Neela Ghoshal. “But President Biya should break his silence on the wave of homophobic violence in Cameroon and publicly condemn this brutal attack.” w/pix of E. Lembembe