Afcon overshadows human rights abuses in Cameroon

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Cameroon's national flag. (iStock).
Cameroon's national flag. (iStock).
  • More than a thousand people from Anglophone regions have been detained by military courts in Cameroon.
  • Amnesty International has launched the "Don't shut them up: Free victims of arbitrary detention now" campaign.
  • Those arrested included journalists and human rights activists.

The Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) underway in Cameroon has overshadowed human rights abuses in the central African country where more than a thousand people from the Anglophone speaking parts of the country are in detention.

Just before the tournament that brought together the continent's best football talents, a group of nearly 50 people were sentenced by military courts on 27 December 2021 for "insurrection, rebellion and endangering state security".

The most prominent of the group is Olivier Bibou Nissan, the spokesperson for Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC), MRC president Maurice Kamto, and Alain Fogué, the MRC's first vice-president.

Fogué was sentenced to seven years and Kamto to 18 months in prison.

Rights activists see the AFCON tournament as an opportunity for the world to see what they say is a "forsaken crisis".

READ | Cameroon govt says 16 killed in nightclub fire

Since 2017, there's been an ongoing Ambazonia War or Anglophone Crisis in the country. Separatists from the Anglophone areas of southern Cameroon launched an insurgency and unilaterally proclaimed the restoration of independence.

In November 2017, the government sent the army to fight them. Since then thousands have been killed in the war, and more than half a million people had been forced to flee their homes.

Now, Amnesty International in a campaign dubbed "Don't shut them up: Free victims of arbitrary detention now", calls on the authorities to immediately release people arrested for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

"These frequent attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, coupled with the widespread use of torture and trials of civilians by military courts, reveal the extent to which the Cameroonian authorities are normalising the repression of critical voices. Their relentless repression must end," said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International's Central Africa Researcher.

Most of the people in detention included journalists, human rights defenders, activists and supporters of political opposition tried before military courts - in violation of international human rights law - and sentenced under the country's repressive 2014 anti-terror law.

Offner said: 

Over the past five years, the human rights situation has grown increasingly bleak as people from Anglophone regions, including journalists, human rights defenders, activists and supporters of political opposition, have been arrested and jailed for expressing their opinions or peacefully protesting.

Amnesty International said in a statement that a number of detainees were currently being held in prisons in Yaoundé, Douala, Bafoussam and Mfou. 

On 7 December 2021, Dorgelesse Nguessan was sentenced to five years in prison for "insurrection, assembly, meetings and public demonstrations" by the Douala military tribunal.

Before she was transferred to Douala central prison on 30 December, she was denied the right to wash in the police station where she was held and suffered an attempted sexual assault by a police officer.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation. 

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