CIVICUS

MonitorbetaTracking civic space

Cameroon

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 23.10.2018 at 13:29

on watch list

from the news feed

view the news feed
Civic space violations following contested presidential elections

Civic space violations following contested presidential elections

In the run-up to the announcement of the election results on 22nd October 2018, several civic space violations took place, including the banning of protests and gatherings, the arrest of journalists and internet restrictions.

Cameroon held presidential elections on 7th October 2018, with incumbent president Paul Biya seeking a seventh term after 36 years in power. The elections come at a moment of an intensified conflict in the Anglophone regions between armed separatists and government forces, and the fight against armed group Boko Haram in the country's Far North region. 

Opposition claims the elections were marred by irregularities. On 19th October 2018, the Constitutional Council rejected the last of a total of 18 petitions, filed by the opposition, to annul the election results over allegations of voter intimidation, violence and ballot-stuffing. In the Anglophone regions, the North West and South West regions, voter turnout was extreme low due to the insecurity, including threats from separatists who banned the vote. International Crisis Group's Hans De Marie Heungoup, quoted by news reports, estimates that voter turnout in the Anglophone regions was a mere 5 percent. 

In the run-up to the announcement of the election results on 22nd October 2018, several civic space violations took place, including the banning of protests and gatherings, the arrest of journalists and internet restrictions. 

According to official results announced on 22nd October, president Paul Biya won the elections with 71.28 percent of the votes. 

Association

At least two opposition leaders were prevented from attending an opposition protest, planned for 21st October 2018 in Douala, which was banned by local authorities (see Peaceful Assembly). The home of Jean Michel Nitcheu of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the main organiser of the protest, was reportedly surrounded by police officers. Édith Kah Wallah of the Cameroon People's Party also experienced the same situation.  

On 15th October 2018, police prevented a press conference of three CSOs from taking place. The Réseau des défenseurs des droits de l'homme en Afrique centrale (Redhac; Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa), Un monde à venir and Dynamique citoyenne planned the press conference in relation to Cameroon's presidential elections in hotel Lumière, which was surrounded by police officers. Police reportedly justified their actions by saying that the organisers did not notify the authorities of the event and that there was a risk that it would disturb public order. Maximilienne Ngo Mbe of Redhac said to RFI:  

"We went to the headquarters of Redhac, and there they followed us with a big apparatus, with a pick-up waiting for us, probably to tell us that they could stop us ... There was the Commissioner himself who was there to conduct the operations."

Expression

According to Angela Quintal of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), journalist Josiane Kouagheu of Reuters and her driver were briefly arrested while trying to cover the protest in Douala. Both were released later. 

The Netblocks internet shutdown observatory noted a slowdown or a throttling of social media and messaging services, on the basis of 7,000 collected metrics over the weekend of 20th and 21st October 2018. Cameroon authorities have a history of selectively disrupting access to the internet. Between January 2017 and April 2018, authorities shut down or slowed down the internet in the Anglophone regions for prolonged periods, as reported previously reported on the Monitor

Peaceful Assembly 

A planned opposition protest in Douala, set to take place on 21st October 2018, was banned by authorities. The protest, organised by Jean Michel Nitcheu of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), was aimed at denouncing the elections results and the fraud and irregularities during the vote. While security forces surrounded the homes of two opposition leaders (see under Association), a massive deployment at the starting point and along the planned route, prevented the protest from taking place. According to Journal du Cameroun, at least four people were arrested in the Rond Point Dakar neighbourhood, where the protest was supposed to take place. 

Additionally, in anticipation of protests against the election results, anti-riot police were deployed on 21st October 2018 at major streets and roundabouts in Douala and Yaoundé. 

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.