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Cameroon: CIVICUS urges release of Cameroonian activists

MEDIA STATEMENT : CIVICUS URGES RELEASE OF CAMEROONIAN ACTIVISTS

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the release of recently arrested leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) and all activists and citizens unlawfully detained in a wide ranging crackdown on peaceful protests ongoing since October 2016.

“The situation in Cameroon is extremely serious and is being closely followed by the Chairperson of the African Union who has urged restraint and dialogue,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “We are deeply concerned about the arbitrary actions of the government and about the well-being of detained, citizens, protestors and civil society members.”

On 17 January 2017 authorities in Buea, the South West Region, arrested CACSC leaders Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba.  Both were taken to the Military Mobile Intervention Unit, also known as the GMI, in Buea before being transferred to the capital, Yaoundé. There are serious concerns about the well-being and safety of the two civil society members as others arrested under similar circumstances have been tortured, and several remain unaccounted for.

Agbor Balla is the President and Fontem Neba is the Secretary General of CACSC, a network of civil society organisations, unions and citizens of Anglophone Cameroon advocating for, and seeking dialogue around, the rights of English speaking Cameroonians. The South West and North West regions are the only 2 Anglophone territories –  the other 8 regions are French-speaking.   The arrest of the two CACSC leaders has been swiftly followed by the arrest of activist Mancho Bibixy, in Bamenda, North West region, shortly after midnight on 19 January 2017.  He has been taken to an unknown destination.

Agbor Balla is the President and Fontem Neba is the Secretary General of CACSC, a network of civil society organisations, unions and citizens of Anglophone Cameroon advocating for, and seeking dialogue around, the rights of English speaking Cameroonians. The South West and North West regions are the only 2 Anglophone territories –  the other 8 regions are French-speaking.   The arrest of the two CACSC leaders has been swiftly followed by the arrest of activist Mancho Bibixy, in Bamenda, North West region, shortly after midnight on 19 January 2017.  He has been taken to an unknown destination.

Since October 2016 citizens, lawyers and teachers’ unions of Anglophone Cameroon have stepped up their efforts to raise concerns over the suppression of the identity of Anglophone Cameroon. They have called for a review of the imposition of civil law practices and civil law trained judges in courts which have common law tradition, as well as raised concerns about the challenges faced by teachers, students and civil servants in Anglophone Cameroon.

Over the last three months, security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters, resulting in several deaths. There are also reports of arbitrary detention and torture while in custody. The whereabouts of several detainees remain unknown. Following the violent response of the authorities towards peaceful protests, CACSC is now coordinating a boycott of schools and academic institutions and a campaign of non-participation in economic, legal and social activities in the two Anglophone regions of Cameron.

Cameroonian authorities have responded by imposing power outages and internet blackouts in the North West and South West provinces in order to impede debate on social media and online platforms.  On 10 January 2017, the authorities closed down private radio station Radio Hot Cocoa, accusing it of unethical behaviour for broadcasting Anglophone Cameroonian concerns. The government has authorised aggressive security tactics in the affected regions including the maintaining a high military presence and carrying out of random house-to-house searches, arbitrary arrests and torture of occupants.

CIVICUS calls on the international community, including the African Union, the United Nations and the Commonwealth to urgently engage President Paul Biya to resolve the crisis and end violations of democratic rights.

Cameroon is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

January 19 2017

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