Africa

Cameroon: repression marks anniversary of repression

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Cameroon: repression marks anniversary of repression

One year after violently suppressing peaceful protests, Cameroonian authorities still resort to their old repressive tactics

DAKAR, Senegal, September 22, 2021 / APO Group / –

Cameroonian authorities should ensure accountability for their security forces’ crackdown on opposition leaders, their supporters and peaceful protesters in September 2020, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. They should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for expressing their political views or exercising their right to peaceful assembly, and end the campaign of repression against peaceful protesters and critics.

“Last September, Cameroonians courageously challenged their government, and they faced violence and contempt,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “A year later, the crackdown continues, with more and more demonstrations banned and peaceful protesters still behind bars. “

On September 22, 2020, security forces fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse peaceful protests across Cameroon. They arrested more than 500 people, mostly members and supporters of opposition parties. The authorities beat many people during these arrests and in police custody.

These demonstrations were organized following calls by the opposition party, the Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC), other opposition parties and civil society organizations to take to the streets against the government decision to organize regional elections. Opposition parties had expressed concern that the elections could not be held freely and fairly without reforming the electoral code and addressing the lack of security in the English-speaking regions.

Maurice Kamto, the leader of the MRC, was arrested in January 2019 after peaceful protests across the country, and was released following a presidential decree in October 2019. He was arrested again on September 20, 2020, and was de facto under house arrest until December 8, with heavy security apparatus outside his residence. The authorities have never charged Kamto nor provided an explanation for his house arrest.

According to a committee of MRC lawyers, at least 124 MRC members and supporters, including prominent leaders Olivier Bibou Nissack and Alain Fogué Tedom, are still in arbitrary detention in the following locations: in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon; Douala, in the Littoral region; Bafoussam, in the western region; and Mfou, in the Center region. A total of 116 are being tried in military courts on charges related to their participation in demonstrations or their activism. Eight were convicted in civil court on similar charges and are serving sentences of two years in prison.

On August 3, the prosecutor of the Yaoundé military court rejected a complaint lodged by Alain Fogue Tedom’s lawyers on January 13, alleging that he had been tortured in detention between September 22 and November 3, 2020, at the secretariat of State for Defense (State Secretariat for Defense, SED), a detention center in Yaoundé. Human Rights Watch has documented the systematic use of torture at SED facilities.

“It has become very clear that civilians cannot get a fair trial in military courts, which lack independence,” Michelle Ndoki, a Cameroonian human rights lawyer, told Human Rights Watch. “The use of military courts to try civilians violates international law, and Cameroon should once and for all reverse this disturbing trend. “

In a press release dated September 9, the MRC lawyers committee decided “… to withdraw from the ongoing legal proceedings” because “it cannot be associated with arbitrariness and illegality”. In a separate statement, issued the same day, the 124 detainees, calling themselves “the political hostages of Paul Biya”, in reference to the president of the country, declared that they would no longer appear before Cameroonian courts because they do not want to support “a travesty of justice.” . “

In a separate incident, on September 18, 2020, gendarmes arrested four members of the civil society platform Stand Up for Cameroon who had attended a meeting at the headquarters of the opposition Cameroonian People’s Party in Douala. A year later, they remain arbitrarily detained in Douala New Bell prison, before a military tribunal for attempted conspiracy, revolution and insurrection. On September 15, the military court in Douala adjourned the trial for the sixth time, until October 13.

Cameroonian authorities have not opened an investigation into violations committed by security forces and other members of the government during the September 2020 crackdown, and no one has been held accountable.

Indeed, the government crackdown on opposition and dissent continues. Authorities banned an MRC demonstration scheduled for July 25 in Yaoundé, citing concerns about Covid-19 and general public order. On the same day, however, a demonstration by supporters of the ruling party took place in Bertoua, in the eastern region.

On August 9, gendarmes arbitrarily arrested in Douala a prominent technology entrepreneur and vocal critic of President Biya, Rebecca Enonchong. She was detained for “contempt of court” until August 13, then was released and all charges against her were dropped. She had previously supported human rights campaigns and denounced violations committed by government forces.

The European Union noted that “civil and political rights continue to be subject to limitations” in Cameroon, in a statement to the Human Rights Council on September 14.

“A year after violently suppressing peaceful protests, the Cameroonian authorities are still resorting to their old repressive tactics,” said Fabien Offner, researcher at Amnesty International on Central Africa. “The African Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Economic Community of Central African States and other regional and international partners of Cameroon should pressure the government to make account for the violations committed by the security forces and demand the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained, and respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

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