Intensification of conflict in Anglophone Cameroon: citizens targeted
Violence and human rights violations have reached unprecedented levels in the past few months as the conflict continues between armed separatists in the two Anglophone regions and government forces. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), in the past year at least 400 civilians in the Anglophone regions were killed in addition to 170 military and police officers, and hundreds of separatists. ICG, an NGO which monitors conflicts worldwide, highlighted as particularly worrying the targeting of the population by both government forces and separatists, as well as the formation of pro-government militias and small criminal groups.
'"These Killings Can Be Stopped". Abuses by Government and Separatist Groups in Cameroon's Anglophone Regions', a report published by Human Rights Watch, on 19th July 2018, documents grave abuses against citizens in the Anglophone Regions by both the government security forces and armed separatists between late 2016 and May 2018. Violations committed by government forces include extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force, use of firearms against protesters, torture and ill-treatment of suspected separatists and other detainees, burning of homes. Abuses committed by separatists include threats against teachers and parents, attacks on schools, killings, kidnappings and extortion. Amnesty International's report 'A Turn for the Worse: Violence and Human Rights Violations in Anglophone Cameroon' of Amnesty International also documents human rights violations in the escalating protracted conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
On 30th September 2018, a 48-hour curfew was imposed in most localities in the Anglophone regions, ahead of the 57th anniversary of the proclamation of Anglophone Cameroon's independence from the UK on 1st October. As reported previously on the Monitor, pro-independence protests on 1st October 2017 were met with tear gas and live ammunition by security and military forces, killing scores of protesters.
As reported previously on the Monitor, the current conflict between the government and armed separatists emerged out of the violent crackdown on what began, in November 2016, as civil society protests and civil disobedience campaigns initially led by lawyers and teachers' unions over the marginalisation of citizens in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
On 7th October 2018, Cameroonians will go to the ballots to elect their next president. A total of nine candidates, including incumbent president Paul Biya, will compete for the presidential office. Biya is seeking a seventh term after being in office for 36 years. It is feared that voter turnout in Anglophone Cameroon will be extremely low due to the conflict, security context and threats from separatists. Many people have been reported fleeing as they anticipate an intensification of violence in the run-up to the elections.
Cameroon is on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, a list of countries with serious and ongoing threats to civic space.
Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, Abakwa FM radio journalist, who has been detained at the Bamenda Central Prison since March 2018 will now be tried at a military tribunal. He's is charged with 'secession and illegal monitoring of security action'. @angelaquintal @CPJAfrica @RepKarenBass pic.twitter.com/88NnGd50hH— Israel Ayongwa (@iayongwa) 7 September 2018
In a joint statement on 12th September 2018, five presidential candidates accused the public broadcaster Radio Télévision du Cameroun (CRTV) of a "biased" and "unbalanced" treatment of presidential candidates from the political opposition. The accusations stem from an internal CRTV note stating that a total of 13 teams of reporters will follow the nine candidates, 8 teams for the 8 opposition candidates and 5 teams for president Biya and his team.
In 10th April 2018, the military court decided to prolong the detention of journalist Akumbom Elvis McCarthy for a renewable six month period while police investigate the accusation that McCarthy aired and disseminated "secessionist propaganda", according to information received by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). McCarthy, a journalist with Abakwa FM Radio, was arrested on 10th March 2018 in Bamenda, North West Region, while he was filming police officers allegedly harassing taxi drivers, according to the Cameroon News Agency. Local media reports indicate McCarthy's trial before the military court of Bamenda was set to start mid-September 2018, but at the time of writing, no further information on the case was available. Authorities in Cameroon use anti-terrorism legislation to silence critics, including journalists, a pattern previously documented on the Monitor.
On 3rd August 2018, unidentified perpetrators set fire to the offices of community radio station Sky FM in Ndu, North West Region, destroying the building and the radio's equipment, said CPJ. Editor-in-chief of NewsWatch Ndi explained to CPJ how precarious the situation of journalists is in the escalating conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon:
"Separatists are threatening us with messages that we are siding with government in our reports as we try to stay neutral or objective in the crisis. On the other hand, any report that seems to be propagating the agenda of the separatists is tantamount to the crime of 'apologies de terrorisme' punishable under the anti-terrorism law by the government."
Human rights activist Franklin Mowha of the CSO Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI) has been reported missing since 6th August 2018 in the city of Kumba in the Southwest Region, one of the two Anglophone regions, where he was on a mission to document human rights violations. On 6th September 2018, FFCI has filed a complaint against persons unknown for Mohwa's forced disappearance. Activist Hervé Nzouabet commented to RFI:
"... his activities are simply to enable individuals who are victims of human rights violations to have access to justice. It was not the first time he was in Kumba, he had been there in May and several times before. But this time, it is feared that he was caught in the raids that have taken place in these areas and confused with some other people." (translated from French).
According to Journal du Cameroun, on 22nd August 2018, local authorities in Douala banned, on 22nd August 2018, an opposition demonstration planned for 15th September because there was a risk it would "undermine public order". The march, organised by opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF), aimed at denouncing the decision of Elections Cameroon (Elecam), the institution responsible for the organisation of the presidential elections, to use military barracks as polling stations.