Antoinette Kongnso, the former lover of dreaded separatist “General” No Pity, has asked Cameroonians to pray for prisoners, especially women, as she walked free from a 16-month terrorism-related sentence on Thursday, February 16.
She was released from the Buea Central Prison after the military court, a day earlier, slammed on her a 16-month jail term for “failure to report terrorism”, a term which she had already served in pretrial detention.
Her stay in prison was certainly awful, and many women are having hard times in jail.
“Please my brothers and sisters, let is start praying hard because prison is a place that everybody in Cameroon goes there,” she said.
“I beg pray hard for our brothers and sisters and when you are praying include the women who are in prison. There are many of them in prison, there are many of us in prison, but I’m free right now.”
Kongnso, who gave birth in prison in December 2021, could not control her joy as she walked out of the prison compound without being escorted by warders.
For the past 16 months (October 2021–February 2023), this has been impossible.
She said she could only be grateful to God and to several lawyers and activists who advocated for her release.
Barrister Edward Ewule Lyonga was one of the lawyers who strongly advocated for her release. He was at the central prison on Thursday to walk his client out.
“It’s a great victory,” he said, “because the way it started we knew that she was either going to be serving a live imprisonment or a death penalty. So we thank God that it has been like this.”
Barrister Ewule and his colleagues battled hard for Antoinette Kongnso to be released. They argued that her arrest on October 2, 2021, was arbitrary and her detention illegal, but this did not stop the Buea High Court from dismissing the case twice.
The Southwest Court of Appeal had ruled for Kongnso to be freed on bail, but the judgement was never effected, as the case resumed at the Buea Military Court, which charged her for failing to report terrorism.
“They saw it that she was not a secessionist, they saw it that she was not a terrorist. The only thing that the court saw was that she failed to report terrorism and it’s a misdemeanor and she was given just 16 months in jail,” Ewule told journalists on Thursday.
Abandoned by women
During her time in prison, Antoinette Kongnso had been “abandoned” by women’s advocacy groups, although she was arrested amid an eight-month pregnancy, tortured, abused and paraded on social media by a Buea-based military officer popularly called Moja Moja.
Some women’s rights defenders had earlier told journalists in Buea that the case was too critical for them to get involved, given that Kongnso was being accused of collaborating with her ex-lover, No Pity, whom the government has tagged a terrorist.
However, Sally Georgette Ndape, a gender and human rights advocate, stood her grounds and advocated unrelentingly for Kongnso to be freed.
She attended several court sessions, and was also at the Buea Central Prison when Antoinette Kongnso reunited with her family and one-year-old baby, which she delivered in prison.
“It’s really bizarre that as women we don’t support each other when such a thing happened,” she regretted.
“I believe a woman needs to support a woman when it comes to this type of situation. It is not only one person, but it’s generally all women. So all of us is women for women, not the contrary. But it was really pathetic that since this case started from day one… women failed to come out,” Sally added.
By Tata Mbunwe