How Many More Will Die For Saying 'I Love You'?

January 16, 2014

By Anna Bacciarelli, Assistant Editor at Amnesty International

‘I’m very much in love with you.’

In 2011, Roger Jean-Claude Mbede texted someone to tell them he loved them. Because he was texting in Cameroon, and because it was to another man, Roger was arrested. The police interrogated him for days, stripping him naked and beating him.

After a trial where he was denied legal representation, Roger was jailed for three years on charges of ‘homosexuality and attempted homosexuality’ and locked in an overcrowded prison where he was sexually assaulted, refused vital medical treatment and beaten by prison guards.

Amnesty supported Roger’s case, called him a prisoner of conscience, encouraged people around the world to stand beside Roger and ask Cameroon’s authorities to release him immediately. There is a brief and heartwarming moment in the film above where Roger is talking about his arrest, the beatings, hurtful rejection from his family – awful stuff. Then the postman arrives with armfuls of letters for him from supporters all around the world. (Skip to 3:34 if you’re impatient.)

Roger died on Friday. He was released from prison in summer last year on medical grounds; according to his lawyer, the family who’d rejected him also rejected his medical treatment plan. Whatever the cause of his death at the age of 34, the vilification Roger experienced at the hands of the police, prison authorities, neighbors, and his own family led to him being denied treatment he desperately needed, in prison and at home.

Showing solidarity with Roger Jean-Claude Mbede at a rainy London Pride in 2012 © I Uppal
Showing solidarity with Roger Jean-Claude Mbede at a rainy London Pride in 2012 © I Uppal

Africa’s Anti-Gay Laws Are Getting Worse

It’s illegal to be gay in 36 out of 54 African states. Depending on where you live, having a consensual relationship or expressing feelings of desire, can get you imprisoned for anything up to life. You can be executed in four countries: effectively sentenced to death from birth.

Nigeria: The Witch Hunt is Starting

The week before Roger died, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan rolled back human rights for Nigerians by expanding the country’s far-reaching, repressive and discriminatory anti-gay laws.

It was already illegal to be gay in Nigeria, but now same-sex marriages carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years, and membership of any LGBTI organization – even a meeting in a bar between two people identified as LGBTI – will get you up to a decade in the dock.

Uganda Could Be Next

Uganda is set to follow Nigeria in rolling back rights for anyone identified as LGBTI. Being gay is a crime already there, but in a couple of weeks’ time, anyone identified as LGBTI could be rounded up to spend the rest of their life in prison.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one step away from becoming law, after it was passed by Parliament at the end of last year. Now, Uganda’s President Museveni holds the key to whether it passes or returns to Parliament. He has until the end of January to decide. Please email the President and ask him to veto the Bill urgently.

As with Nigeria, Uganda’s law is far-reaching, imposing prison sentences on anyone suspected of involvement with LGBTI individuals – restricting access to legal support and health advice. In fact, if you know of someone working with LGBTI individuals and you fail to report that activity within 24 hours, you too will be prosecuted.

Sacrificing Their Lives to Defend Gay Rights

Reports that Nigerian police are drawing up hit lists of hundreds of LGBTI individuals mirrors the infamous ‘gay lists’ published in the Ugandan press in recent years.

David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist, was one number on that list – his photo appearing beside the headline ‘Hang Them’ in 2011; his address published inside the paper. Next week will mark three years since David was murdered in his home, after a hate campaign in the media and public vilification by politicians.

How many more will die for saying ‘I love you’?