Cameroon | Release Felix Agbor-Balla, Dr Fontem Aforteka’a Neba and Mancho Bibixy

28.07.2017

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Time is pressing so let's go straight to the point: there is no other option for Cameroonian authorities than to promptly release human rights defenders Felix Agbor Balla, Dr Fontem Aforteka’a Neba and journalist Mancho Bibixy. That is, if Cameroon intends to live up to its international human rights commitments or at least show minimum regards to basic human rights standards. Because as we all know, arbitrary and lengthy detention of peaceful protesters is a major blow in the face of human rights. 

How come human rights lawyer Felix Agbor Balla, Dr Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, journalist Mancho Bibixy and so many others ended up in jail after peacefully protesting for their right to use English, their native language (and Cameroon’s second official language), in schools and courts? How could their peaceful action possibly fall under counter-terrorism laws and call for no less than death penalty? And most importantly, how come their so-called pre-trial detention has been going on for six months now? Those are only some of the countless questions raised by the Balla, Neba, Bibixy cases, and more broadly by the way Cameroonian authorities handled the protests that spread across its anglophone regions.

Since last November, Cameroon’s English-speaking regions have experienced continued unrest in protest of the predominance of French language and its influence in key sectors such as secondary education or legal practice. This all started with a strike by anglophone teachers, who were quickly joined by students and lawyers. The protest then spread throughout the various cities of the region. The reaction of Cameroonian authorities was immediate: soon the Internet was shut down in the whole region and the military was sent to silence protestors by any means, including by firing live bullets at protestors.

Though they had just co-signed a statement calling for demonstrations to be held without violence, lawyer Felix Agbor Balla and Dr Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, respectively president and secretary-general of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) were both arrested on 17 January. The CASC was immediately declared illegal. Along with Balla and Neba, journalist Mancho Bibixy was arrested, too. 

Since then, the three human rights defenders have been detained in Kondengui central prison in Yaoundé with no possibility for bail. Worse still, they are being deprived of the right to a fair trial, being judged by a military court instead of a civil one and facing very unclear charges. The multiple expeditious hearings carried out so far have all ended up in their detention being indefinitely prolonged and their basic rights constantly violated. Allegations have been made that they, along with the other 26 persons arrested under the same circumstances, have suffered all kinds of ill-treatments since the start of their detention. Whoever knows Kondengui’s reputation in terms of prisoners’ rights and problematic conditions of detention will certainly believe these allegations.

The latest hearing took place last week and brought nothing new. Balla and his companions remain in jail. They are still facing blurry charges accusing them of defying the State. Their cases still fall under military law and there are still facing death penalty, for no reason.

Despite numerous calls from several international human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders and the International Commission of Jurists; despite calls from the African Union and several UN experts; despite the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales closely following the case and publicly exposing its multiple shortcomings; and despite the Cameroonian authorities gently nodding at comments made by the international community, the government remains completely deaf to the voice of reason.

Looking at the situation, it is really hard to believe that Cameroon is in fact a State party to the International Covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR) as well as to the Convention against torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to the International Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Hard to believe indeed as it keeps violating, inter alia, article 9 of the ICCPR that clearly states that 'no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention  [and that ]  anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.'

We therefore demand that Cameroon respects its own human rights commitment and  drop all the charges against Felix Agbor Balla, Dr Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, Mancho Bibixy and all those arbitrarily detained for peacefully protesting as the UN Declaration for human rights defenders allows them to. We call for their immediate release because as many know, every day counts in Kondengui prison.

We also call on the UN to hold the Cameroonian authorities accountable for all the alleged human rights violations that occurred during their arrest and detention and to take a strong stand in favour of Cameroon's human rights defenders and their families.  

To know more about the case, read and join the online petition calling on Cameroonian authorities to release these human rights defenders 

Photo: FlickR/Neil Conway

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
Country
  • Cameroon