CIVICUS

MonitorbetaTracking civic space

Cameroon

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 01.06.2018 at 10:02

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Overview

Although civic freedoms are technically respected in law, people in Cameroon cannot criticise the authorities or offer alternative opinions to those of the government. While the constitution provides strong guarantees for basic freedoms, other laws, including the penal code, are used to undermine civic space.

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Human rights defenders face threats and judicial harassment

Human rights defenders face threats and judicial harassment

The military court of Yaoundé found seven Anglophone activists guilty on several charges during a trial on 26th April. This includes Mancho Bibixy, a journalist for Bamenda FM who reported on the rights of Cameroonian Anglophone citizens, and worked with the civil society consortium to report human right violations.

The conflict between armed separatists and government forces has intensified with killings and human rights violations on both sides. Security forces are accused of targeted killings, and the burning and looting of villages, while armed separatists are accused of killing and abducting government and security officers, and burning of schools. At least 100 civilians, 43 security officers and an unknown number of armed separatists have reportedly been killed in the past seven months, according to the International Crisis Group. Meanwhile, the UN and NGOs have raised the alarm over the humanitarian crisis in the two Anglophone regions (northwest and southwest) as authorities have restricted movement, thus limiting access to humanitarian aid.   

Association

Anglophone crisis: activists and citizens face charges  

The military court of Yaoundé found seven Anglophone activists and citizens guilty on several charges during a trial on 26th April. This includes Mancho Bibixy, a journalist with Bamenda FM who reported on the rights violations against Cameroonian Anglophone citizens, and worked with the civil society consortium to report human right violations. Bibixy was found guilty of "acts of terrorism, secession, hostility to the fatherland, spreading false information, revolution, insurrection, simple rebellion and contempt to civil servants". He has been in detention since his arrest on 19th January 2017. 

On 10th April, the military court of Yaoundé condemned Terence Penn Khan, vice-principal of a high school in Bambili, to 12 years in prison and a fine of 5,000,000 francs CFA (approximately 9,000 USD) on charges of "complicity in secession, financing of terrorism and complicity in rebellion". Penn Khan was arrested on 16th January 2017 for following a call to boycott and strike in an action organised by a consortium of civil society, teachers and lawyers.

Threats against and judicial harassment of activists working on sensitive issues

On 11th May 2018, vice-president of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association, Musa Usman Ndamba, was sentenced to six months in prison and a 500,000 francs CFA fine (900 USD) by the Court of First Instance of Bamenda on charges of  "defamation of character" under Cameroon's Criminal Code. The Association focuses on the rights of the indigenous people of Mbororo, in particular on land rights issues and government corruption in land acquisition deals. Musa Usman Ndamba has faced judicial harassment since 2013, and has been threatened. 

On 20th April, plainclothes police detained three staff members of the organisation Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO), including the executive director, when they were leaving their office in Dschang. AJO advocates for the rights of HIV positive people, LGBTI people and sex workers. On 21st April, two other AJO care workers were arrested at their homes. During an interrogation by territorial security officers on 23rd and 24th April, the five were told they were facing charges of "homosexuality", which is criminalised under Cameroon's Criminal Code. The five face a prison sentence up to five years and a fine of 200,000 CFA francs if found guilty. 

Several members of the Organic Farming for Gorillas (OFFGO) - a group of farmers working against land grabs and for the protection of the environment in Mbengwi (northwest) - faced threats and judicial harassment, as documented by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. On 13th April and 18th April, the group's lawyer, Elvis Brown, received calls with death threats if "he did not drop the file", which refers to the group's complaints before the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF).The caller also threatened the founder of OFFGO, Jan Capelle, who was briefly detained and expelled from Cameroon to Belgium in May 2016. Two Board members of the group - Matthias Awazi and Humfred Manjo - were briefly arrested in July 2016 following a protest by OFFGO members and villagers against the injunction issued by the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Division ordering the destruction of the organic community farm in Tudig, which had been developed by OFFGO. Investigations into the abuses against OFFGO members, including judicial harassment, was carried out by the NCHRF but the publication of the findings has been delayed several times.  

Expression

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Syndicat National des Journalistes du Cameroun (National Union of Journalists of Cameroon - SNJC) demanded the unconditional release of all detained Anglophone journalists.

In the run-up to the elections for Cameroon's Senate on 25th March, the National Communication Council (NCC) suspended the broadcasting of programmes of a political nature between 10th and 24th March, a suspension that was defied by a few private media stations, such as Magic FM, according to Deutsche Welle, but most journalists and media outlets exercised self-censorship. As a warning to media outlets, the secretary general of NCC, Jean Tobie Hond, reportedly said

"If those media outlets do not see the need to stop, it is possible that the council will take measures spelled out in a 2012 presidential decree - notably the suspension of the defaulting media outlets".

In a press statement issued on 11th March, Syndicat National des Journalistes du Cameroun called on media outlets and journalists to denounce and defy the NCC directive on the suspension of programmes of a political character. 

On 3rd March, Le Jour journalist Caristan Isseri was physically assaulted, detained and interrogated by bodyguards of former Transport Minister Alain Edgard Mebe Ngo’o. The journalist went to the ex-minister's home in Yaoundé to get his comments after the cabinet had reshuffled and Ngo'o had been replaced.  

Peaceful Assembly

On 28th April 2018, police officers dispersed a public assembly at a stadium in Douala, firing live ammunition in the air and using tear gas. The Kingship International Ministries - a well-known church in Douala - organised the assembly to launch the National Programme For Peace In Cameroon. A member of the church was expected to announce himself as a presidential candidate.  

Association

Civil society organisations in Cameroon must register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration, which has the power to suspend or dissolve associations which ‘threaten public order’, although there are no set criteria for making such a decision. CSOs defending the rights of LGBTI people, or promoting the fight against corruption are particular targets of these wide-ranging ministerial powers.

Civil society organisations in Cameroon must register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration, which has the power to suspend or dissolve associations which ‘threaten public order’, although there are no set criteria for making such a decision. CSOs defending the rights of LGBTI people, or promoting the fight against corruption are particular targets of these wide-ranging ministerial powers. The state also makes systematic attempts to subvert and infiltrate the civil society sector. In more recent times, newer and less formal citizen movements have become the subject of intense scrutiny, harassment and unlawful arrest by the security services in Cameroon.

Peaceful Assembly

Any person organising a peaceful public gathering in Cameroon must first get approval from the authorities. This gives the state the power to ban marches and demonstrations that it does not like, on the grounds that the assembly is likely to ‘disturb public order’.

Anyone organising a peaceful public gathering in Cameroon must first get approval from the authorities. This gives the state the power to ban marches and demonstrations that it does not like, on the grounds that the assembly is likely to ‘disturb public order’. Similar to the authorities’ approach to undesirable associations, protests dealing with the rights of LGBTI people and combatting corruption are especially likely to be denied permission, while meetings dealing with land rights, democracy and security are frequently broken up. Protests often turn violent because of disproportionate use of force by the police. Where protests are approved, they can also be restricted by the imposition of conditions on the time, place and duration of a demonstration or meeting. Strict rules on the organisers’ liability for damage also affects the potential financial sustainability of some movements that rely on regular public gatherings to build support.

Expression

In Cameroon, the authorities tightly control the media through the National Communications Commission (NCC), which regularly suspends media outlets and journalists when they broadcast information or opinions perceived as damaging to the state or its agents. In April 2015 alone, the NCC suspended a TV channel, a radio station and three privately-owned newspapers.

In Cameroon, the authorities tightly control the media through the National Communications Commission (NCC), which regularly suspends media outlets and journalists when they broadcast information or opinions perceived as damaging to the state or its agents. In April 2015 alone, the NCC suspended a TV channel, a radio station and three privately-owned newspapers. In recent years, several journalists were arrested under the new anti-terrorism law and brought to the military court, charged with disclosure of defence secrets and being a threat to state security At least one journalist has died in custody, one had his car blown up outside his house while others have fled the country because of reactions to their reporting. Many journalists self-censor because of fear of reprisals. Cameroonian human rights activists describe how journalists operate with the constant threat of intimidation, harassment and arrest by the authorities. Access to information is further curtailed as only 11% of the population has access to the Internet.