The high price of protest­ing

The Africa Report - - COUNTRY FOCUS -

SOME 74 AN­GLO­PHONES ARE AP­PEAR­ING be­fore a mil­i­tary tri­bunal in Yaoundé ac­cused of ter­ror­ism for their in­volve­ment in the cri­sis that has hit Cameroon’s two An­glo­phone re­gions since Novem­ber 2016. They were ar­rested dur­ing protests af­ter lawyers and teach­ers went on strike to protest threats to the le­gal and ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems. They risk the death penalty due to an anti-ter­ror­ism law adopted in De­cem­ber 2014. Three lead­ers of the an­glo­phone cause are among the ac­cused: lawyer Félix Ag­bor Nkongho, pro­fes­sor Fon­tem Aforteka’a Neba and Man­cho Bibixy, a.k.a. ‘BBC’, a ra­dio host. The first two are re­spected intellectuals. Bibixy is an ac­tivist and was at the front­line from the be­gin­ning of the trou­bles. Dur­ing the first protests, he ap­peared in a cof­fin, ha­rangu­ing the crowd. The tri­als started on 23 March and are set to drag on. The ac­cused have been im­pris­oned in a high-se­cu­rity jail in Yaoundé since Jan­uary. In late April, their lawyers filed a re­quest for their pro­vi­sional re­lease, but the tri­bunal re­jected it. Faced with at­tacks by the Nige­rian Is­lamist group Boko Haram, Cameroon adopted a con­tro­ver­sial law to use in the fight against ter­ror­ism. It de­fines ter­ror­ism as “any act or threat likely to cause death, put in phys­i­cal jeop­ardy, bring about cor­po­ral or ma­te­rial dam­age, dam­age to nat­u­ral re­sources, the en­vi­ron­ment or cul­tural her­itage.” Ac­tivists say the regime is us­ing the law to sti­fle all con­tes­ta­tion. That case is not the only trial caus­ing ten­sions in North West Re­gion. Three bish­ops, two priests and a nun are be­ing sued for the Catholic Church’s management of its schools dur­ing the strikes. Two se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers are lead­ing a group that claims to rep­re­sent the par­ents of stu­dents. They are seek­ing dam­ages of 150bn CFA francs ($225.8m), an amount that would bank­rupt the arch­dio­cese of Ba­menda sev­eral times over. The back­ers of the suit say that Arch­bishop Cor­nelus Fon­tem Esua and the oth­ers are re­spon­si­ble for the boy­cott of classes in the church-run schools and col­lect­ing fees with­out hold­ing classes.

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