Protest leaders on trial as resistence in Anglophone cameroon continues

Peaceful Assembly

State-driven repression of citizens and civil society has been in full swing in the English-speaking South West and North West regions of Cameroon since November 2016. This crisis has now led to the arrest of protesters, with the trial of three protest leaders beginning in Yaoundé on 13th February. Lawyer Agbor Balla, university professor Fontem Neba and activist Mancho Bibixy are all members of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), an association that has now been banned by the authorities. The three were arrested on 17th January, having called for demonstrations in western Cameroon to condemn the marginalisation of people in these areas. Since then, they have been transferred to Yaoundé where their trial is underway. They are facing serious charges including 'complicity in hostility against the homeland, secession and civil war, and campaigning for federalism'. The three pleaded not guilty to all charges during their first hearing on 13th February before the court postponed the trial until 23rd March to allow the state time to prepare its list of witnesses.

More than 100 other individuals from the South West and North West regions have been arrested since October 2016 for participating in peaceful protests organised by CACSC. Arbitrary arrests continue and reports allege that some of those detained are tortured. The whereabouts of many more remain unknown. In response to the arrests, the people of the South West and North West regions are refusing to participate in any activity on Mondays and Tuesdays. On those days, everyone stays indoors, shops and businesses are closed and no other socio-economic and cultural activities take place between 6am and 6pm. In addition, schools have remained closed since the start of the year. In a statement, Head of Policy & Research at CIVICUS, Mandeep Tiwana, said:

'The situation in Cameroon is extremely serious and is being closely followed by the Chairperson of the African Union who has urged restraint and dialogue. We are deeply concerned about the arbitrary actions of the government and about the well-being of detained, citizens, protestors and civil society members.'

Association

As unease persists in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon, CACSC, the civil society coalition coordinated campaign for change, has been banned by the government. Despite this clear violation of the right to freedom of association, CACSC remains mobilised - coordinating the 'dead city' campaign and considering other forms of action in the coming days. The consortium is also asking companies including oil companies to withhold payment of taxes to what they call a corrupt administration. Despite the ban, CACSC is still operating, in large part because of the strong support they continue to enjoy from the population of these regions.

Expression

The case of Ahmed Abba, RFI's Hausa language correspondent, continues without an end in sight. After 20 months in detention and 14 hearings, the court has still not been able to build a solid case against him. At the latest hearing, Abba's lawyers rejected a second expert report. The report was ultimately also rejected by the court, other experts nominated, and a new report commissioned. At the same time, the court found an application for acquittal to be unfounded and remanded the case to February 23rd. The CIVICUS Monitor will continue to track Abba's case.

On a broader level, free expression is under pressure in Cameroon because of the ongoing repression of protests in Anglophone areas of the country. As part of the authorities' attempts to quell dissent, they have blocked access to the internet and social media since December. A number of journalists have also been arrested and several private radio stations were closed, including Radio Hot Cocoa.