Fears of further crackdown in deepening Anglophone crisis
What began as civil society protests and civil disobedience campaigns initially led by lawyers and teachers' unions over the marginalisation of people in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon in November 2016 spiraled out of control after a violent crackdown on the protests. Security forces killed protesters and civilians; journalists and activists were arrested; and internet access in the region was cut off. Following the killing of several soldiers and police officers in November, President Biya declared "war on these terrorists who seek secession", by introducing a night curfews, placing road blocks and conducting raids. Local media in Cameroon reported on 30th January 2018 that the Minister of Communication had announced that 47 suspected Anglophone secessionist, including Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, were extradited from Nigeria to Cameroon, after being arrested earlier in January by Nigerian authorities. All are currently being held in jail in Yaoundé.
In the meantime, thousands of people have fled to neighboring Nigeria due to the deepening crisis, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This is in addition to an estimated 2.5 million displaced people in Nigeria and Cameroon due to continuing attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Cameroon is currently on the Monitor Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.
Authorities arrested prize-winning writer, New York University professor and poet Patrick Nganang, who resides in the U.S., on 6th December 2017 at the airport in Douala before he boarded a plane to Harare. He had been visiting Anglophone areas of the country. Nganang is accused of offending the president in a Facebook post. Supporters of Nganang allege that the arrest is related to an article published on Jeune Afrique on 5th December in which Nganang criticised the government's handling of the Anglophone crisis. The writer was released on 27th December 2017.
Journalist and Radio France International Hausa language correspondent Ahmad Abba was released on 23rd December, after a military appeal court in Yaoundé reduced his sentence from ten years to 24 months on 21st December. As reported previously on the Monitor, Abba was arrested in July 2015 after reporting on the activities of terrorist group Boko Haram in the Far North region, and was finally sentenced in April 2017 on charges of "non-denunciation of terrorism" and "laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts". The military appeal court dropped some of the charges but upheld the "non-denunciation of terrorism" charges.
On 9th October 2017, a judge at the military court of Yaoundé altered the charges against three journalists facing judicial prosecution since October 2014. Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola, sub-editor of the daily Mutations, Canal 2 Television journalist Rodrigue Tongué and journalist Baba Wamé were initially charged with "non-disclosure of sensitive information" in their possession, which the court changed to criminal defamation charges for "complicity in attempting to insult the president". On 30th October 2017, the military court of Yaoundé acquitted the three journalists.
Access to internet restricted
As reported previously on the Monitor, authorities restricted access to internet for the second time in the two Anglophone regions on 30th September 2017 prior to the 1st October protests, which mainly affected social media and communications applications. Two international internet freedom groups, Access Now and Internet sans Frontières (ISF), have petitioned the Constitutional Council over the government-ordered shutdown of the internet. The two organisations, intervening on behalf of local and regional civil society organisations, stated that the cut-off violates regional and international rights frameworks that support the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through digital means. Executive Director of ISF Julie Owono stated that:
"A decision by Cameroon’s Constitutional Council to reaffirm the protection of Human Rights, and rule on the illegality of shutdowns, would send a historic and powerful signal to other countries of the Central Africa region. Between 2016 and 2017, all countries of the region illegally used internet shutdowns for political reasons".
Cameroun : la police déployée à Douala pour empêcher une manifestation https://t.co/fYdRjIN9JJ— Andre Silver Konan (@andresilverkona) 21 oktober 2017
The authorities prohibited a protest planned on 7th November 2017 by the Association Nationale des Opérateurs du Secteur Informel pour la lutte contre la Pauvreté (National Association of Informal Sector Operators for the Fight against Poverty) in Yaoundé, as reported by Cameroon-Info.Net. The protest aimed to denounce abuses by security forces. The authorities claim the protest was prohibited due to the potential risk of "disturbing public order".
Security forces prevented a protest from taking place in Douala, the economic center of the country, on 21st October 2017 by occupying the place planned for the demonstration with anti-riot vehicles. The protest by the Social Democratic Front - the main opposition party in the Anglophone part of the country - was planned to express solidarity with citizens in the two Anglophone regions. Authorities prohibited the planned demonstration a few days earlier, on 19th October, on grounds of potential disruption to "public order".
Following the release of #Harissou and the 3 journos, please don't forget #AboubakarySiddiki who's still in detention and sentenced to 25 y after an unfair trial before a military court-which should not have jurisdiction to try civilians #Cameroon pic.twitter.com/ejPfcNWClx— ilaria allegrozzi (@ilariallegro) 15 november 2017
On 30th October 2017, the military court of Yaoundé sentenced Aboubakary Siddiki, president of the opposition party Mouvement Patriotique du Salut Camerounais, to 25 years in prison on several charges, including hostility against the homeland and contempt for the president. Siddiki was arrested in August 2014, along with Abdoulaye Harrisou, a notary, with the latter sentenced to three years in prison for "non-denunciation". Both were initially accused of complicity in murder, illegal possession of arms, hostility against the homeland, revolutionary activities, non-denunciation and contempt of the president. They were held incommunicado for over 40 days. Their trial started on 22nd January 2016. Ilaria Allegrozzi, Lake Chad Researcher for Amnesty International commented on the sentencing of Siddiki:
"Aboubakary Siddiki is the latest victim of the Cameroonian authorities’ strangling of opposition voices. Alongside Abdoulaye Harissou he has already spent more than three years in detention, suffered torture and now he must face a future behind bars on the basis of a politically motivated and deeply flawed trial".