In Cameroon, a new wave of repression hits opponents

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Maurice Kamto, president of the Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC), the country's main opposition party, in Paris on January 30, 2020.

A new scourge of lead falls on the Cameroonian opposition as condemnations are linked for the executives, members and sympathizers of the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC), the party of Maurice Kamto, main opponent to Paul Biya, president of the country for thirty-nine years.

Monday, December 27, more than 35 people, arrested as part of ” peaceful marches Organized by the MRC and several other political groups on September 22, 2020, were sentenced to terms ranging from one to seven years in prison by the military court in Yaoundé, the country’s capital.

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Professor Alain Fogue, party treasurer and Olivier Bibou Nissack, spokesperson for Maurice Kamto, received the heaviest sentences, namely seven years’ imprisonment. Twenty-four hours later, the same verdict was handed down against Mispa Awasum, lawyer at the Cameroon bar and national president of the MRC women, as well as an executive and five other activists. Accused, among others, of ” rebellion », « crowd », « insurrection “, All were sentenced in the absence of their group of lawyers.

Last September, they had given up defending the 124 activists currently in detention (more than 500 had been arrested in 2020) in the face of ” to the impossibility of access to fair justice », « the lack of independence of civilian, administrative or military judges ” or ” systematic and manifest refusal to use the law ». « The collective declares that it cannot be associated with arbitrariness and illegality, and takes the heavy and delicate decision of withdrawing from the ongoing proceedings. ”, Specified the lawyers in a statement.

“Neutralize the opponent”

« How can someone arrested at home like Bibou Nissack be accused of assembly? Some demonstrated in Bafoussam (Where is). Can they carry out a coup d’état against Mr. Biya while being in Bafoussam or in Douala? “, Denounces, one of the councils which ensures that” these decisions (the convictions) have been ordered since the Presidency of the Republic ».

In September, Maurice Kamto, officially second in the 2018 presidential election and who has been claiming victory since then, told the World Africa that the power of Yaoundé wanted ” beheading »Of MRC.

« The main objective was to destroy us as a political party. Apparently, there would have been an internal debate on whether to dissolve the party or to proceed otherwise. They decided to do it differently », Assured the one who spent eight months in detention in Kondengui prison in 2019 and more than two months under house arrest in 2020. At the beginning of December, then visiting Douala, the economic capital of the country, to dedicate his books and visit imprisoned activists, he had been held at his hotel by the Cameroonian security forces.

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According to political analyst Aristide Mono, these threats, arrests or convictions of opponents and detractors of the government aim to ” subtly neutralize the opponent and, at the same time, send a message of intimidation to all those who harbor ambitions of radical opposition ».

It is thus a question of provoking “Self-censorship among those who would be tempted to challenge the order in power “, Which, according to this researcher associated with the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies and Research on Slavery and Trafficking in Africa, is consistent with” the ambitions of perpetuation in power nourished by the regime of President Biya ».

In a joint statement released in September, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch denounced the abuse inflicted on jailed opponents. ” Most of the militants of the MRC suffered torture and ill-treatment with simulated drowning, some were beaten. Sick inmates were shackled to hospital beds », Describes Fabien Offner, specialist in Central and West Africa at Amnesty International. Cameroon represses with ” a rather frightening constancy all individual freedoms ”, deplores the researcher.

Leverage CAN

The cases of journalists, human rights defenders or opponents prosecuted continue to accumulate. Many are on trial in military court, especially since the adoption of the anti-terrorism law in 2014, at the height of the attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram in the far north of Cameroon. So much so that voices are raised to denounce a ” instrumentalisation “Of the text aimed at” keep in detention indefinitely ” civilians.

In September 2020, four members of the civil society collective Stand Up for Cameroon were arrested at the end of their weekly “Black Friday” meeting, initiated in 2016 to protest against governance issues. Detained at New-Bell prison in Douala and tried at the military court, they were found guilty of« insurrection » and sentenced Thursday, December 30 to sixteen months of detention and the payment of 376,000 CFA francs (some 570 euros).

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“We look in vain for times when Cameroonians are free to express themselves, to criticize, to demonstrate. These moments do not exist except for the activists of power », Laments Fabien Offner.

Eight days before the kickoff of the African Cup of Nations (CAN) on January 9, Aristide Mono ensures that the opposition could take advantage of this event organized by Cameroon and covered by international media. According to the analyst, the competition could elicit surprise and spontaneous actions to convey messages ” hostile to the regime Or improvise small protest marches.

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In Cameroon, a new wave of repression hits opponents

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