New crackdown on opposition protests: at least 350 arrested after defying protest ban

Civil society organisations call upon UN Security Council members to focus on Cameroon crisis

A group of nine human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa - REDHAC) and Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme Cameroun among others, have written an open letter, dated 31st May 2019, to the current members of the United Nations Security Council to focus more attention to the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Cameroon in a briefing of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), considered as an opportunity to raise the crisis at the UN Security Council formally, and to add the crisis to the agenda of the UN institution. 

"The UN Security Council has largely kept silent on the crisis. Without expeditious action, the situation is likely to worsen."

EU resolution calls on authorities to 'open space for civil society to operate'

On 18th April 2019, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the worsening situation for civic space in Cameroon. In particular, the resolution highlighted the 'use of excessive force against protesters and political opponents, and violations of the freedoms of the press, expression and assembly', 'cases of torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the security services and armed separatists'. The EU legislative body has called authorities in Cameroon to initiate an inclusive dialogue to end the crisis in the Anglophone regions and for the immediate release of Maurice Kamto along with others who are being held on politically motivated charges. Similarly, the resolution called for an end of the ban on the activities of the Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and to ensure an open space for civil society to operate. The government of Cameroon rejected the resolution and said the resolution is comprised of a 'string of untruths'. 

Peaceful Assembly

Opposition protests banned, at least 350 opposition members arrested after defying the protest ban

Cameroonian administrative authorities have repeatedly denied protests by Cameroon's main opposition party Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC), calling for the immediate release of the party's leader Maurice Kamto and other MRC supporters.On 5th April 2019, the Minister of Territorial Administration announced a ban on protests planned for 6th and 13th April 2019 and threatened that 'instigators and offenders, whoever they are, will face the rigor of the law.' As reported previously on the Monitor, more than 100 protesters were arrested during 'marches blanches' ('white marches') in cities across the country on 26th January 2019, called by MRC to denounce what they call electoral fraud during the country's presidential elections on 7th October 2018. On 28th January 2019, MRC's leader, Maurice Kamto was arrested alongside colleagues Albert Dzongang and Christian Penda Ekoka. They face multiple charges, including the treason, inciting violence, disruption of public peace and hostility against the fatherland, which could lead to the death penalty. 

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 350 people were arrested when the MRC members and supporters tried to hold protest on 1st June 2019 across several cities in Cameroon. Despite the ban authorities imposed on grounds of 'risk of disturbing public order', people attempted to mobilise. According to MRC, 354 persons were detained in the cities of Yaoundé, Douala, Bafoussam and Nkongsamba, including the Vice-President of the political party, Mamadou Mota. The party announced to go to the streets again on 8th June 2019, but the protest was prevented after after a heavy presence of security forces was pre-emptively deployed in Yaoundé. According to MRC, several people, who were in the vicinity of the planned place of the protest, were arrested. 

In April 2019, Kamto's lawyers filed a case at the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions for Kamto, Dzongang, Ekoka, and 150 of MRC's supporters and members who "were arrested in a totally illegal manner, under various pretexts that actually mask a will for political repression".

29 opposition protesters sentenced to one year in prison

On 11th March 2019, 29 MRC supporters who were arrested in relation to the 'marches blanches' ('white marches') on 26th January 2019, received a one-year prison sentence on charges of 'illegal gathering and demonstration'. The court ordered the immediate release of 11 others after they were found not guilty of the charges .

Expression

Journalist arrested on charges of criminal defamation and spreading false news

Police officers arrested journalist Paul Chouta on 28th May 2019 in Yaoundé following a defamation complaint of Calixthe Beyala, a French-Cameroonian writer. Chouta, who works for the online news outlet CameroonWeb, was charged with defamation, spreading false news, and hate speech on 10th June 2019. While the charge of hate speech was dropped the following day, he was denied bail. Under Cameroon's Criminal Code, Paul Chouta could face up to six months in prison for the defamation charge and up to five years for the charge of spreading false news if found guilty. Angela Quintal of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said

"Instead of holding Paul Chouta in a maximum-security prison, authorities should release him and encourage Calixthe Beyala to seek redress through civil remedies, not criminal action. Criminal defamation and false news laws have no place in a fair and just country, and Cameroon should change such laws."

Editor-in-chief of CameroonWeb, Emmanuel Vitus said to CPJ that the severe charges and the denial of bail to Chouta might be a reprisal for Chouta's reporting on the government. He also said Chouta received anonymous threats in the past months. As reported previously on the Monitor, Paul Chouta was beaten and stabbed by three unidentified perpetrators in January 2019 after he interviewed the campaign manager of opposition leader Maurice Kamto. 

Association

Human rights researcher denied entry

On 12th April 2019, a senior human rights researcher from Human Rights Watch, Ilaria Allegrozzi, was denied entry into the country at the international airport of Douala, despite being granted a three-month visa on 25th March 2019. Allegrozzi was in Cameroon to conduct research on human rights violations in the Anglophone regions. No reason was given for the denial of entry into Cameroon. Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch commented

“The government is doing everything it can to keep the world in the dark about its ongoing abuses, but it won’t succeed."

Report: violence and violations against LGBTI persons doubled in 2018

In the report 'The Ignorance. 2018 Annual Report on Cases of Violence and Violations based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Cameroon', the human rights CSOs Humanity First Cameroon and Alternatives-Cameroun outlined that in 2018, they registered 1,134 cases of violence against LGBTI persons in Cameroon, almost double the amount they registered in the previous year. This includes 60 cases of arrests, 204 cases of physical violence and 8 cases of sexual violence. Article 347.1 of the Criminal Code criminalises same-sex relations, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Additionally, sexual advances to someone of the same sex through communication technologies is an offense in article 83 of the Law on Cybercriminality and Cybersecurity and can lead to a two-year prison sentence if found guilty, said the report.