Arbitrary detentions, military courts highlight Cameroon’s crackdown on opposition


Cameroonian authorities’ crackdown on dissenting voices since late September resulted in arrests, arbitrary detentions and prosecutions in military courts of opposition members staging peaceful protests, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Members of the opposition Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) have been targeted on September 22 with at least 500 of its members arrested.

Of those, 160 remain in detention, 13 have been sentenced to prison by civilian courts, and 14 appeared before a military court.

“The harsh repression of opposition and dissenting voices shows no sign of relenting in recent months. People simply exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration have paid a high price with prison terms based on trumped-up charges,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International West and Central Africa researcher.

“The authorities must immediately put an end to the mass arbitrary arrests and detentions and immediately release prisoners of conscience.”

The planned September 22 protest by the MRC in several Cameroonian towns has been banned by authorities and police went on to arrest and arbitrarily detain its leadership and members.

According to the lawyers, at least 160 arrested people remain in detention as of 25 November, in the towns of Douala, Yaoundé, Bafoussam and Nkongsamba. The lawyers have filed applications for their release 45 times but were rejected each time.

Eight people have been sentenced to two years in prison on November 17 by the court of first instance of the town of Mfou (Center) which found them guilty for « gathering, assembly and public demonstrations, and rebellion in group”.

Five other people have been sentenced on 6 November to four months in prison in the town of Nkongsamba (West) for attempt of public demonstration.

Fourteen people arrested on September 22 were prosecuted by the military court in Bafoussam (West) between November 24 and 25, for “attempted insurgency and unauthorized public demonstration and gathering “.

One of the defendants was also prosecuted for “contempt to the President of the Republic” and for holding “two signs calling for the departure of President Biya’’.

At least 45 other MRC members also arrested on September 22 were convicted of “attempted revolt”, “rebellion”, “aggravated assembly” and “lack of national identity card’’ by the Yaoundé military court, which placed them in pre-trial detention.

Those imprisoned include Olivier BibouNissack, Maurice Kamto’s spokesman, and Alain Fogue Tedom, national treasurer of the MRC.

“Military courts should in no way be competent to try civilians as reminded in the guidelines and principles on the right to a fair trial of the African Commission on Human and People’s’ rights,” said Offner. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)