By Tata Mbunwe
Human rights organization, Mandela Centre International, alongside 26 organizations, has petitioned President Paul Biya to free scores of Cameroonians detained for political reasons.
In a February 3 petition also signed by Amnesty International, CHRDA, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mandela Centre says “if these detainees are not freed, then no Cameroonian is free”.
“Detaining people simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as detaining people following unfair trials without independent procedural safeguards, is arbitrary and illegal,” the rights organizations state.
Among these prisoners are women, journalists, and peaceful protesters arrested during the 2017 protests in the English-speaking regions 2017. Most of them, these human rights organizations say, have been handed “heavy” sentences for simply exercising the right to their freedom of expression.
“We want to help bring about change. Let us move towards a just future where human rights, and freedom of expression, in particular, are truly respected. Let us ensure that these people are freed, reunited with their families, and able to seek redress for the worst injustices they have suffered. Your Excellency, Mr. President, we urge you to reform the laws that are currently used to criminalize demonstrations and public assemblies and to guarantee the release of all those arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” the human rights organizations stated.
The organizations say the international community and media should not be drowned by the ambiance of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations and forget about pressing human rights concerns in the country.
“As AFCON celebrations come to an end and the world’s media stops focusing on Cameroon, let’s work to build a society we can truly celebrate,” they said.
The rights organizations added: “As Cameroon hosts the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, all the spotlight is on the country. The whole world is watching African countries compete for the title, in an effervescent atmosphere. But the ovations and celebrations broadcast by the media mask another reality in the country. More than a hundred people have been languishing in Cameroonian prisons, most for more than a year, and some for more than five years, simply for protesting.”
Journalists among political prisoners
One of the signatories to the open letter sent to President Paul Biya is the Committee to Protect Journalists, a renowned international organization that defends journalists who are in distressing situations.
Alongside the other human rights organizations, CPJ is calling on the State of Cameroon to liberate at least three journalists victimized by the government concerning political courses.
One of these journalists is Kingsley Fumunyuy Njoka, who was arrested on May 15, 2020, and was first held incommunicado for weeks. He has been in detention, without trial, for more than 20 months, according to these human rights organizations.
Another journalist being detained politically is Conrad, a young freelance journalist from the English-speaking regions who was arrested for covering the 2017 protest. The rights groups say he was “doing his job as a journalist.” He was arrested at the scene and a military court later slammed a 15-year imprisonment term.
In their open letter, the rights groups stated “Like Penn Terence Khan, he is now entering his sixth year in prison. At least three other English-speaking journalists are also arbitrarily detained along with TSI Conrad. Mancho Bibixy and Thomas Awah Junior were arrested in January 2017 and sentenced by the same military court to 15 and 11 years in prison respectively.
MANCHO is also known for his human rights activism around the Anglophone crisis and for standing in a coffin as he gave a speech in front of other protesters.”
The Anglophone crisis has heightened government oppression against journalists some of who have been threatened, arrested and even killed.
The case of Buea television journalist, Wazizi is still fresh in mind. He was arrested by government soldiers and detained incommunicado for several months and was only pronounced dead after a whistle blow told Equinox television he had died in detention.