Tuesday 1.8.2017 in Latest Developments
Internet access was gradually restored in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon in April 2017, after a blackout stretching 93 days. Internet Sans Frontières and Access Now estimated that the costs of restricting internet access in the two region have been staggering for the country's economy.
In addition to blocking the internet, since October 2016 the government has cracked down on any form of dissent and protest, using excessive violence at demonstrations and arresting critical voices from activists, lawyers and journalists. To this day, many remain in detention facing trials on charges of terrorism, which can carry a maximum sentence of the death penalty. “Ghost town” protests, in which schools and businesses remain shut during the day, two days a week, continue as the population demands the release of all those detained.
The regime continues to use the powers under its Anti-Terrorism Law to curtail independent journalists' reporting and coverage of controversial issues in the country. Ahmed Abba, a correspondent for Radio France International, was sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine of 85,000 EUR for "laundering the proceeds of acts of terrorism" and "non-denunciation of terrorism" in a hearing by a military court on 24th April 2017. As previously reported on the Monitor, Abba has been detained since July 2015 for his reporting on refugees and the armed terrorist group Boko Haram. He was charged under the 2014 Anti-Terrorism Law. On 18th July 2017, the International Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Abba in absentia the 2017 International Press Freedom Award.
Other journalists arrested in January and February 2017 include Thomas Awah Junior of Aghem Messenger Magazine, Amos Fofung of the Guardian Post, Jean Claude Abortem from the online platform Camer Veritas, Tim Finnian of Lifetime Newspaper, Atia Tilarius Azohnwi of The Sun newspaper remain in detention at the time of writing.
On 14th July 2017, the military court of Yaoundé charged Atia Tilarius Azohnwi with promotion of terrorism under the 2014 Anti-Terrorism Law. Azohnwi is the political desk editor of The Sun newspaper and president of the Buea Chapter of Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists. He has been in detention since his arrest on 9th February 2017.
On 7th June 2017, a military court denied bail to Mancho Bibixy, Felix Agbor-Balla and Fontem Neba, all charged with acts of terrorism. Mancho Bibixy, a human rights activist, journalist and radio host for Abakawa FM, was arrested on 19th January 2017. Dr. Fontem Neba and Felix Agbor-Balla, Secretary General and President respectively of the now banned Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, were arrested on 17th January 2017. All three remain in solitary confinement and are scheduled to appear in court on 31st August 2017, after their trials have been postponed several times. Another activist, Ayah Paul Abine, arrested on 21st January 2017, remains in solitary confinement at the State Secretariat for the Defence (SED). He has been rushed to the hospital on two occasions over the last five months after suffering from serious health challenges.