National Dialogue on Anglophone crisis, dissent voices linger in prison

national dialogue on the Anglophone crisis will take place in Yaoundé from 30th September to 5th October 2019. Convened at the initiative of President Paul Biya, the dialogue aims at 'mobilising all the constructive forces around peace, security, national harmony and progress' and will discuss eight topics, including bilingualism, the education and judicial system, and the reconstruction and development of the regions that have been affected by the conflict. The initiative divides opinions, with some initially expressing hope but also scepticism due to the lack of a neutral mediator, the top-down approach in determining the agenda, and the absence of several critical actors in the dialogue - civil society actors, certain political opposition leaders such as MRC leader Maurice Kamto who has been in prison since January 2019, and leaders of separatist armed groups, who have refused the invitation to participate in the dialogue. The form of the Cameroonian state will not be discussed during the dialogue. A few days before the start of the dialogue, activist and scholar Abdul Karim was reported missing on 25th September, allegedly detained by security forces, in Yaoundé. His whereabouts have not been disclosed. Karim has in the past been very critical of the government’s actions in the two Anglophone regions. 

The CSO International Crisis Group (ICG) commented on the national dialogue:

"As proposed, however, it will neither include separatist leaders nor leave much room for Anglophones who support federalism within Cameroon’s borders. It thus risks further frustrating Anglophones, widening the gulf between the two sides and empowering hardliners."

In a press conference on 25th September 2019, fifteen civil society organisations in Cameroon, including the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) and Dynamique Citoyenne, have said that they will not attend the national dialogue as certain preconditions have not been fulfilled. They further said that 'they feel that the rules of the game have been flawed since the start. They denounce the bad procedure of the adopted dialogue and are concerned about the result'. 

Expression

On 2nd August 2019, police officers arrested Samuel Wazizi, news anchor for private music channel Chillen Muzik and Television (CMTV), in Muea and handed him over to the military on 6th August. The journalist, also known as 'Halla Ya Matta' stands accused of 'collaborating with separatists' and 'spreading separatist information' but was not formally charged, said Wazizi's lawyer to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He was denied bail, as he is being investigated for charges under the anti-terrorism law, and since being handed over to the military denied access to his lawyer and family visits. 

According to VOA, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji accused journalists of supporting the opposition and of being unpatriotic, and said that 'they have one main objective, just to sabotage government action, to promote secessionist tendencies'. Niji further warned journalists 'I urge them to be responsible. Those who do not want to respect the laws will be booked as being recalcitrant and will be treated as such'. 

In a joint report on the safety of journalists in Cameroon from January 2017 to January 2019, the freedom of expression CSOs African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) and Association pour Le Développement Intégré et la Solidarité Interactive (Association for Integrated Development and Interactive Solidarity; ADISI-Cameroun) said that there had been an increased crackdown on journalists in the country with about a dozen arrested, assaulted or threatened. According to the report, state actors were the main perpetrators, and several journalists have fled the Anglophone regions to find safety in cities such as Douala and Yaoundé, while others have fled into exile in Nigeria, South Africa and the USA. Those who remain in the Anglophone regions are subjected to threats and harassment from state actors. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 31st August 2019, the Cameroon Bar Association announced a five-day sit-in strike, which took place nationwide from 16th to 20th September 2019, to denounce the conditions lawyers have to work in, notably denial of access to their clients and the 'constant and consistent' violation of the rights of accused individuals. Additionally, the Bar Association said that lawyers 'are continuously threatened, arrested, detained in the course of the exercise of their functions'. Christian Daniel Bissou commented to RFI: 

"Lawyers in Cameroon believe that they cannot work, that there are a number of obstacles. They want to have access to their clients in different detention centers, to have working conditions that allow them to exercise [their functions] freely. They want to stop being abused and kept in custody. Yesterday [Monday 16 September] again, a number of colleagues were subjected to violence in Buea and Kumba in police and gendarmerie units, which proves that these obstacles continue. They are fed up. There is no democracy without justice but there is no justice without lawyers." (translated from French)

Association

According to Front Line Defenders, eight young human rights defenders were charged with rebellion, complicity in subversion, failure to report, using a false title, and propagation of false news during their first hearing at the Yaoundé Military Court on 27th June 2019 in relation to a three-day protest they were planning to organise to demand that President Paul Biya step down. They were arrested on 18th May 2019 in Yaoundé while taking a selfie in front of a post office. Jules Raymond Anama, Christian Ouemba Kuete and Juliette Ndim Bih are members of the youth organisation Citoyens Pour la Mémoire du Cameroun - (CPMC; Citizens for the Memory of Cameroon), an organisation that works on citizen participation, accountability and transparency. The five other HRDs - Yannick Mbakop, Samuel Talla Giles, Stanislas Tokam, Herman Zebaze Takoubo and Aimé Kameni Wetchadji - are part of the student association Association pour la Défense des Droits des Etudiants au Cameroun (ADDEC; Association for the Defence of Student Rights in Cameroon). They were reportedly denied access to their lawyer the first 10 days of their detention. 

In a statement issued on 26th July 2019, Amnesty International said that 59 opposition supporters were subjected to torture during their questioning at the State Secretariat for Defence (SED), including beatings and forcing them into humiliating positions. The 59 were arrested during opposition protests on 1st June 2019. As reported previously on the Monitor, at least 350 people were arrested during protests on 1st June, calling for the release of supporters of the opposition party Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC) and its leader, Maurice Kamto, who were arrested in the context of 'marches blanches' ('white marches') in cities across the country on 26th January 2019.