Cameroon's crackdown continues as journalist convicted on terrorism charges
Au Cameroun, des rescapées de la guerre contre Boko Haram racontent : « J�ai tro:: CAMEROON... https://t.co/cPWjp9GTeI— camer.be (@camerbe) April 14, 2017
Extremist group Boko Haram is responsible for serious human rights abuses, including hundreds of killings and kidnappings of civilians in Cameroon. In response to the insurgency and growing security threat, the authorities and the country's security forces in turn have committed grave human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, detaining persons incommunicado and committing acts of torture. In this unstable environment, citizens have also been prevented from organising around issues and participating in civic activities. Tensions between citizens and the government have increased, as evidenced by the crackdown against protesters and internet shutdown in the Anglophone regions and the further curtailment of freedom of expression throughout the country.
The restrictions on and persecution of human rights groups and civil society in the Anglophone regions has extended to leaders of faith-based organisations, including from the Catholic Church, heads of Christian missions and the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. Religious leaders have called for peaceful mobilisation and dissent against the government crackdown on citizens' rights in the Anglophone regions. As a result of their activism and outspokenness, they have received summons to appear in courts in Bamenda and Buea in the northwest and southwest regions, starting from 24th April 2017. Citizens in both regions will most likely protest during these court appearances and the security forces in turn are likely to supress any demonstration.
The Cameroonian government has also been waging a war against independent media, threatening to close media outlets and intimidating journalists by prosecuting them on terrorism charges for their coverage of the protests and human rights situation in the Anglophone regions. In addition, journalists facing charges have not been treated fairly before the law.
In July 2015, Ahmed Abba, a correspondent for Radio France Internationale was arrested and has remained in detention since. Following almost two years in detention and multiple delays in his trial, on 20th April 2017, the Yaounde military court convicted Abba on charges of "non-denunciation of terrorism" and "laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts". Abba was however cleared by the court on charges of apologising for terrorism. Prosecutors have asked for life imprisonment and his sentencing hearing was postponed until 24th April. The hearings have been reported as flawed; witnesses were not called and certain documents were not forwarded to defense lawyers. There were also reports that Abba was tortured during a period when he was kept in incommunicado detention for three months. The conviction has been widely condemned as a clear violation of the freedom of expression. The Committee to Protect Journalists Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said:
"The military court's conviction of Cameroonian radio journalist Ahmed Abba on terrorism charges that could carry the death penalty is an outrage. Covering terrorism as a reporter must not be equated with committing acts of terror. Each day Abba spends behind bars is a travesty of justice".
In December 2016, a group of lawyers in the predominately Anglophone-speaking city of Bamenda held a protest over national legislation they believe discriminates against English speakers. Soon teachers and other citizens joined the demonstrations. On 17th January 2017, the authorities arrested protest organisers - Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, the president of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, and Fontem Neba, the group’s secretary general - on terrorism charges. Support for the lawyers' cause swelled over social media, and in response to the active social media campaigns, the government cut off access to the internet. Access Now has called on the telecommunications companies to restore citizens' access to internet services.
Other journalists who have been targeted by the regime include Atia Tilarius of the Sun Newspaper and Amos Fofung of the Guardian Post. Both remain in detention in the capital after they were arrested in the southwest region of Buea for speaking out about the situation in the Anglophone regions.
At the time of writing, Cameroon remains on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.