Opposition protesters prosecuted in military courts; two journalists sentenced in appeal
Association & Peaceful Assembly
September 2020 opposition protests: over 100 remain in detention, use of military courts in prosecution
On 15th January 2021, Human Rights Watch reported that 136 people, arrested in relation to the opposition protests on 22nd September 2020, remained in prison. Over 500 people, mainly supporters and members of opposition party Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC), were arrested. Amnesty International said previously in December 2020 that several people have been tried or prosecuted, either before civilian courts or military courts:
- On 17th November 2020, the Court of First Instance of Mfou sentenced eight persons to two years in prison for 'gathering, assembly and public demonstrations, and rebellion in group'.
- On 6th November 2020, a court in Nkongsamba sentenced five people to four months in prison for 'attempt of a public demonstration'.
- Between 24th and 25th November 2020, fourteen people were charged, by the military court of Bafoussam, with 'attempted insurgency and unauthorised public demonstration and gathering'. One person was additionally prosecuted for 'contempt of the President of the Republic' and holding signs demanding the departure of president Biya.
- The military court of Yaoundé charged at least 45 others with 'attempted revolt', 'rebellion', 'aggravated assembly' and 'lack of national identity card', thereby placing them in pre-trial detention.
- A military court charged Awasum Mispa Fri, president of MRC's women's group, with 'complicity in revolution and rebellion' for having called for an end to the house arrest of MRC leader Maurice Kamto.
The four members of Stand Up Cameroon, a platform of opposition political parties and civil society organisations, who were arrested on 18th September 2020 after attending a meeting in Douala, were charged with 'attempted conspiracy, revolution and insurrection' by the Douala Bonanjo military court and placed in pre-trial detention.
Fabien Offner of Amnesty International commented on the use of military courts in the prosecution of opposition members:
"Military courts should in no way be competent to try civilians as reminded in the guidelines and principles on the right to a fair trial of the African Commission on Human and People’s rights.
The Minster of Territorial Administration banned the movement '10 millions de Nordistes' in an order issued on 18th November 2020, claiming that the movement was not declared and its objectives go against the Constitution. According to the movement, founded by journalist Guibaï Gatama, '10 million de Nordistes' is 'an apolitical initiative aimed at promoting the interests of the far North in a republican spirit'.
Cameroonian publisher of Kalara, Christophe Bobiokono and journalist Irène Mbezele were fined and given 2 year suspended prison sentences on charges of defamation and “insulting a state institution”: https://t.co/gSTTPiO6CC @Follow_SALC @mediadefence @ComfortMussa— IFEX (@IFEX) December 27, 2020
On 4th December 2020, two journalists - Christophe Bobiokono and Irène Mbezele - were sentenced for defamation and 'insulting a state institution' in appeal proceedings. The editor and journalist for Kalara, an investigative weekly focused on the judicial system, were handed a two-year suspended prison sentence and high fines - 7,265 USD and 2,750 USD respectively - qualified by Reporters without Borders (RSF) as 'complicity of the Cameroonian justice system in an attempt to silence the publication'. The charges date back to two stories published in the weekly in October 2018 relating to comments made by member of parliament Faustine Fotso during a dinner on what methods she had used to influence judges, including the judge who presided over the court case against Bobiokono and Mbezele, in a dispute between two politicians. The comments were recorded by one of the dinner guests without Fotso's knowledge and were obtained by Kalara. The court proceedings, on appeal and in the original trial in December 2019, were marred by irregularities, including the systematic violation of defence rights and the omission of a key signed statement from a hearing in which Fotso acknowledged the comments she had made during the dinner. Arnaud Froger of RSF said:
“Cameroonian judges have twice been complicit in completely unfounded prosecutions designed solely to prevent this newspaper from continuing its investigations. This case should have been quickly dismissed but instead the survival of the newspaper that was clearly the target of all these manoeuvres is now threatened. As for the two journalists, they also have a threat hanging over them, the possibility of being jailed if they cannot pay the very heavy fines to which they have been sentenced.”