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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Disturbing signs already mark Paul Biya's Septennate

At least six journalists arbitrarily arrested as part of their work. Forced disappearance of a human rights defender. 

In a statement received by our editors, eight international NGOs call on the authorities

On October 7, 2018, President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, was re-elected for a seventh term in a context of rising human rights violations and a strong deterioration of the security situation, particularly in the northwestern and southwestern regions of the country.

While several observers have noted unprecedented citizen mobilization in the presidential election, attacks and repression against human rights defenders and other civil society actors are redoubling.

"Carrying a critical voice in the media or social networks, professionally or otherwise, especially on the human rights situation is not a crime. Attacks on defenders must stop, "says Alexandra Poméon, Head of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH / OMCT) for FIDH. Yet in Cameroon, members of independent civil society organizations are regularly subjected to acts of intimidation and harassment, including judicial. The latter exercise their human rights activities in a tense and risky environment.

Concern has grown among them, especially since Brother Franklin Mowha, President of the Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interest (FFCI), has been missing since August 6, 2018, while on a mission. Kumba, in the South West region, to document cases of human rights violations related to the socio-political crisis in English-speaking areas. In this case, the authorities remain silent despite a complaint filed on September 4, 2018.

At least six journalists arrested

"Because of the arrests, it is becoming increasingly difficult for independent journalists and members of civil society to play their role safely while in the current context, information, dialogue and the participation of  all components of society are indispensable, "said Emilie Leroux, Cameroon Project Manager (CCFD-Terre Solidaire).

Thus, at least six journalists have been arrested across the country in recent weeks mainly following the publication of critical information to the Cameroonian authorities on the management of the Anglophone crisis. Several of them are currently being harassed by the law because of the legitimate exercise of their profession, like Michel Biem Tong, Director of the Hurinews online news site and human rights defender.

Arbitrarily detained since October 23, 2018, Michel Biem Tong was placed, on November 15, 2018, under mandate of deposit by the Military Court of Yaoundé for "apologizing for terrorism, misrepresentations, contempt of the Head of State".

"Given the lack of independence and impartiality inherent in military tribunals, in Cameroon as elsewhere, they should in no way be competent to try civilians," said Samira Daoud, Deputy Regional Director for Africa of the United Nations. West and Central Amnesty International.

The signatory organizations request the immediate and unconditional release of Michel Biem Tong and the abandonment of all charges against him. They also call for an independent and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of Franklin Mowha.

The signatory organizations call on France and the European Union, partners of Cameroon, to urge the Cameroonian authorities to put an end to the obstacles to public liberties and to guarantee, in all circumstances, the protection of human rights defenders and journalists. The international community, and in particular the United Nations and the African Union, should seize the issue.

An instrumentalisation of the anti-terrorist law

While the country faces since 2014 violent terrorist attacks perpetrated in the northern part by the armed group Boko Haram, the government of Cameroon makes an abusive use of the law n ° 2014/028 of December 23rd 2014 on the suppression of acts of terrorism against dissenting voices, in particular against journalists and civil society organizations.

In addition to defining terrorism very broadly, this law does not specify what constitutes "apology". In fact, peaceful public words or writings can fall foul of the law when they are critical of the authorities, and targeted individuals face sentences of up to the death penalty.

"The fact that Cameroon is facing two major security crises should not be used to restrict, under the cover of the fight against terrorism, public freedoms in the country and more particularly freedom of expression," said Clément Boursin, Africa Program Manager (ACAT).

The anti-terrorism law should be revised to bring it into line with international law, say the signatory organizations.

The only security and military answers will not overcome the multifaceted crises that the Cameroonian society is going through.Their resolution can only be done with respect for human rights; This necessarily involves independent and impartial investigations to shed light on the crimes committed and to establish the responsibilities of the perpetrators. :

* Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France)

* Amnesty International

* CCFD-Terre Solidaire

* International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

* World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

* Faith and Justice Network Africa Europe

* Catholic Relief - Caritas France

* Let's turn the page