Deadly repression of protests amid partial internet shutdown in Anglophone Cameroon

Peaceful Assembly

Soldiers killed at least eight protesters and wounded many others during pro-independence protests on 1st October 2017 in different parts of the two Anglophone regions (North West and South West regions) of the country. Military forces were deployed and security forces used live ammunition and tear gas against protesters, and clashes between protesters and security forces were reported. According to a press release from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC) received reports of 30 killings due to the use of real bullets and tear gas in the run-up to and during the protests on 1st October as well as afterwards, while CIVICUS has received unconfirmed reports from some local activists that an estimated 100 people were killed. 

The protests were held on 1st October to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the proclamation of Anglophone Cameroon's independence from Britain. The protests also denounced the marginalisation of Cameroonian citizens in the Anglophone regions. In the run-up to the protests, authorities had banned gatherings larger than four people, businesses were shut down and the freedom of movement of citizens was severely restricted in the two regions. The government also closed the border with Nigeria. Secretary General of FIDH, Paul Nsapu, stated that: 

"It is unacceptable that peaceful protests should be dispersed with bullets. The violent repression taking place will not solve the issues raised by the protest movements of the Anglophone minority. On the contrary, it runs the risk of exacerbating tensions, radicalising stances and escalating violence. Inquiries into the bloody repression over the past few days must immediately be sped up, as a matter of urgency, and those responsible must be brought to justice."

As reported previously on the Monitor, the government crackdown started after a group of lawyers called for a strike on 11th October 2016 over the imposition of French civil law in the two Anglophone regions of the country. Since October 2016, over 100 people are estimated to have been killed, hundreds arbitrarily detained, and activists and journalists charged with terrorism. To disrupt the flow of information regarding the crackdown, the internet was shut down for 93 days. 

Expression

Authorities in Cameroon have partially restricted access to internet on 30th September in the two anglophone regions of the country - the northwest and southwest regions, in an effort to quell the ongoing protests. The restrictions on the internet mainly impact social media and communications applications, including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter. The authorities have denied planning to shut down the internet in the run-up to the protests on 1st October. Julie Owono, Executive Director of Internet without Borders, said

"The incoherence of Cameroonian authorities is obvious, the reality is contrary to their declarations of good intentions, which are intended to reassure the international community. This new Internet shutdown is contrary to numerous commitments by Cameroon, notably on the right to access to the Internet. In addition, it violates the recent UN resolutions condemning the deliberate disruption of Internet."

The last internet shutdown in the anglophone areas ended in April 2017 after a total of 93 days, as previously reported on the Monitor. In a new policy brief released on 29th September 2017, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa stated that governments in at least 12 African countries have shut down the internet since 2015 and the estimated the cost of the 93 days shutdown in Cameroon is 38.8 million USD. 

On 24th September 2017, the National Communication Council of Cameroon suspended 30 journalists and radio and television programmes for "biased reporting". Suspensions run from one to six months, and are also based on charges of unprofessional conduct and refusal to abide by norms and ethics of journalism. Newspapers La Nouvelle Expression, La Meteo, L'Anecdote and radio station Amplitude FM were among those affected. 

In the report "Journalists, Not Terrorists" published on 20th September, the Committee to Protect Journalists outlines how the 2014 anti-terrorism legislation is being used to silence critics and suppress dissent, and creates an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship. 

Association

On 30th August, President Paul Biya ordered the release of several activists involved in the protests, including lawyer Felix Nkongho and Dr. Neba Fontem, among others, who were arrested in January 2016 and were facing charges at the Yaoundé Military Tribunal. However, many of the protesters who have been arrested over the past year remain in pre-trial detention. 

In a separate incident, Nasako Besingi, a campaigner against palm oil plantations, was arrested on 25th September and taken to the Buea police headquarters, after police and military officers searched Besingi's offices and confiscated his passport, documents, laptop and telephone. He was notified of initial charges of "insurrection, threats, hostility and promoting false information". He appeared three days later before the Buea Military Tribunal for questioning, and remains in detention at the time of writing. Besingi has led a campaign against the US-funded 73,000 hectare palm oil farm in a biodiverse rainforest, and has been subject to judicial harassment, including a conviction of defamation charges on 3rd November 2015.