Prominent human rights lawyer, Barrister Atoh Walter M. Tchemi, has revealed that the police brutalised and forced him into their van in Kumba, South West Region, as he tried to inquire about a client.
The lawyer told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the assault occurred when he sought information about a client who had been arbitrarily arrested following a truck accident.
According to Barrister Tchemi, the incident happened around 10:30 am on Friday, December 22, at a garage on Mulango Street, Kumba.
As he attempted to inquire about his client’s situation, the police, instead of providing information, reportedly subjected him to physical violence.
“While trying to find out what was happening, the policemen started to beat me from all directions with the butt of their guns and threw me in their van like a piece of wood, accusing me of subverting police authority,” Barrister Tchemi recounted.
“My clothes were destroyed, and I have bruises all over my body.”
Barrister Tchemi said he had intended to file a case against the police officers but decided to let go because of “the snail pace of justice in Cameroon on issues concerning lawyers”.
This incident adds to a concerning pattern of brutality and mistreatment faced by lawyers in Cameroon.
Human Rights Watch condemned the attack on Barrister Tchemi, emphasising that lawyers, as defenders of the people, should not be targeted for carrying out their professional duties.
HRW’s Director for Central Africa, Lewis Mudge, stated, “They should be able to work without fear of harassment or assault. The authorities should promptly, credibly, and impartially investigate today’s attack on Tchemi.”
The organization Lawyers for Lawyers, in a release published in November, highlighted the challenges faced by lawyers in Cameroon, including harassment, the use of anti-terrorism laws, and military courts to persecute those defending separatists, leading to arbitrary arrests.
One notable case is that of Barrister Amungwa Tanyi, who faced severe beatings by Gendarmes in Yaounde in 2019 while assisting detainees against charges of terrorism and secession.
Despite filing a case before the court in Yaoundé, no action has been taken against the perpetrators.
The incident involving Barrister Tchemi further raises concerns about the state of human rights and the rule of law in Cameroon.
The human rights situation, according to non-governmental organizations, is worse in the English-speaking Regions, where an armed conflict has been raging since 2017.
Arbitrary arrests, detentions and summary execution of civilians are more recurrent several kinds of human rights abuses ongoing in the two regions.
Amid this, lawyers are not spared, further complicating the quest for justice.
Advocacy groups, including HRW and Lawyers for Lawyers, are calling for a thorough investigation into the assault, urging the government to refrain from actions that constitute harassment, persecution, or undue interference in the work of lawyers.
The spotlight remains on the authorities to address these alarming incidents and uphold the rights and safety of legal professionals in the country.
Mimi Mefo Info