Cameroon – Repression of protests and attacks against the media must be investigated

ARTICLE 19: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 September 2020:

ARTICLE 19 urges the Cameroonian authorities to investigate the excessive use of force during peaceful protests in Yaounde and other cities in Cameroon on 22 September 2020. They must immediately release all protesters who were arrested solely for expressing their opinion and investigate attacks against journalists ill-treated and arrested for collecting information on the protest. The protests were organised by the Mouvement pour la Renaissance du Cameroun (MRC) to demand the departure of the President of the Republic. (Photo above: Cameroon President Paul Biya).

“It is unacceptable that the security forces used lethal force against peaceful protesters, arrested and humiliated people only because they were exercising their right to protest. The authorities must investigate these human rights violations and explain why one of the protesters died and others were injured and illtreated. The authorities must ensure that those suspected to be responsible are brought to justice”, said Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa.

“One person was reportedly killed, at least ten wounded and 60 arrested including five media professionals. Some of them were victims of ill-treatments”

The Mouvement pour la Renaissance du Cameroun (MRC) called for a series of peaceful protests across the country to demand the departure of the President of the Republic. On 21 September 2020, Communication Minister and Government spokesman Rene Emmanuel Sadi announced during a press conference the ban on the demonstration, describing it as calls for popular uprising and overthrow of institutions by leaders of a political party, such decision undermines the right to free expression and peaceful protest.

On 22 September, activists responding to the call of the MRC, stormed the streets in different cities of Cameroon to peacefully protest. But the security forces used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse the protesters. According to media reports, one person was reportedly killed, at least ten were wounded and 60 people arrested, including five media professionals. Some of the protesters were ill- treated, and security forces reportedly ordered those arrested to sit on the ground and forced them to sing a chant to glorify the President of Republic.

No one should lose their life, or fear torture or ill-treatment because of exercising their right to protest. The police should have facilitated this peaceful protest, but instead, they used force to disperse the protesters. ARTICLE 19 has reviewed three videos of the protests and all appeared to be peaceful. When attending a protest, the police should be guided by the presumption of peacefulness, rather than assuming there will be violence and resort to using force.

“Five media professionals were arrested. Although Rodrigue Ngassi identified himself to Security forces as Media cameraman, they arrested him and twisted his arm.”

 ARTICLE 19 urges the authorities to ensure the protection and safety of journalists, to tolerate media reports on dissident opinions, especially during protests and to unconditionally release all those arrested only for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.

The police arrested five media professionals: Tah Jarvis, Tebong Christian Lindovi Ndjio, Rodrigue Ngassi Polycarpe Essomba. The Equinoxe tv channel has in their news broadcast condemned how the security forces treated Rodrigue Ngassi. He identified himself as a cameraman to the security forces, but they arrested him, and twisted his arm and put a foot on his neck. Rodrigue Ngassi was later released and urged the Cameroonian police to respect journalist doing their job.

Polycarpe Essomba, a Radio France International reporter was beaten, while he was covering the demonstration. The police hit him with a truncheon and took him to a police station, released him after two hours. Lindovi Ndjio, Journalist of “Nouvelle Expression”, Tah Jarvis and Tebong Christian respectively Journalist and Cameraman of “ My Media prime” were finally released on the evening of 23 September 2020 in the second day of their arrest.              

“The arrest of the journalists, who were just doing their work, is a violation of media freedom. The role of the media is to report and inform the public about anything relevant to them. The authorities shouldn’t intimidate journalists and restrict the right to access to information.”

“Journalism is not a crime. It is not enough to release the arrested journalists. Any charges should be dropped. The Government must shed light on the ill-treatments and the motivation of their arrests against these journalists. Cameroon must end the cycle of impunity for attacks against journalists and brutal repression of protesters” urged Fatou Jagne Senghore.

It is very risky to work as a journalist in Cameroon, and the protection of the media continues to deteriorate. Following attacks on the press, ARTICLE 19 has interviewed the data journalist Paul Joël Kamtchang, Executive Secretary of ADISI Cameroon, who stated: “The protection of journalists in the exercise of their profession is deplorable in Cameroon.  The authorities seem to believe they are above the law; they think they can muzzle journalist on duty.”

We call on the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to information to urge the government of Cameroon to respect their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and guarantee media freedom.

“We are asking the African Commission Special Rapporteur to monitor the situation and urge the government to investigate these violations and make sure that Cameroon will not continue to prevent, hinder or restrict unduly the right to protest and to attack media.”

The right to protest enables citizens to participate actively in the socio-political life of their country. Cameroon’s 1996 Law on the revision of the Constitution guarantees the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, press freedom and the right to protest. Also, the Constitution prohibits the use of the torture, and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

ARTICLE 19 has underlined in its principles of the right to protest that States should not prevent, hinder or restrict the right to protest except to the extent allowed by international human rights law and standards.

By banning and using excessive force to disperse a peaceful protest, Cameroon has violated its international obligations. For example, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 9 of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) guarantee that everyone should be able to express their opinions without interference. The  Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa underline that protest is a right, for which organisers don’t need prior authorisation.

By using excessive force, the authorities failed to ensure the safety of the public and to safeguard the human rights of all persons during the protest as stated in the African Commission Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa. Moreover, the excessive use of force doesn’t comply with the requirements of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa.   

At the UN Human Rights Council, during its last UPR review in 2018, Cameroon received recommendations to ensure that any restrictions on freedom of assembly and demonstration should be in line with international obligations. Unfortunately, the country only noted these, and in practice, Cameroon continues to restrict the freedom to protest. For example, in January 2019 when the authorities banned “marches blanches” following the announcement of the Presidential election results which were contested by the MRC. The security forces used excessive force to disperse the protesters with tear gas and bullets and arrested several demonstrators including the prominent opposition leader Maurice Kamto.   

3 Comments

  1. Accountability and Answerability are two ticking time bombs waiting to explode in Africa in the not too distant future – they are almost the same thing just slightly different. I sometimes wonder whether these wicked, greedy Dictators that have robbed our people and turned them to beggars living in abject poverty have ever considered that a day will come when future generations will ask those in power to give account of the past stewardship of men who once ruled them that were no longer alive? On that day heads will roll!

    Only when our leaders begin to understand the importance of accountability that’s when we will move forward with lightning quick speed; that’s when we will ascend to dimensions of breath-taking possibilities never before seen. A farmer given a piece of land to cultivate will eventually have to give a full account of this efforts to the real owner of that piece of land; But Stargazer, why on earth are our leaders and politicians not directly answerable to our people? Why do they disappear into thin air when elected only to reappear again after many years when an imminent election is on its way? Seriously, they are taking our people for granted – That needs to change!

    Now folks, lets hear what the wise King Solomon also known as Sulaiman has to say about Answerability and Accountability. “We have a little Sister and she has no breasts: What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for”( Song of Solomon 8:8) Now remember this was a King speaking, a ruler and a highly revered religious figure among his people. This was not a bachelor but a man married to 300 lovely wives recognizing the importance of giving account and being answerable for whatever is diligently entrusted to your care. Its a troubling situation – what will happen on a day when suitors come to seek the hand of their sister in marriage and find out she is experiencing hormonal imbalances that have caused her to look underdeveloped in her bodily appearance? Someone, anyone, Answer – What will happen when future generations ask us why our coffers are empty, and our country is in shambles and disarray; What sensible answers will you proudly beat your chest and give.(lol)

  2. This is where we got all things wrong. Lets face it African leaders have always acted in the twin role of a Democrat and traditional ruler. As so called practicing democrats, they are fulfilling one of their international west creditor’s demand. Elections are held so they can receive aid money. When it comes to their willingness to do everything, they stay in power well past their sell by dates, they restore to old African traditions of traditional rulers. Instead of figuring out how to develop their country, they build palaces that rival the old monarchies of Europe or Asia. They surround themselves with YES MEN that sing their praise and telling them they are a gift to their nations.

    The press that is supposed to point out their flaws are so cowed they join the bandwagon of heaping praise on their dictatorship. Paul Biya, in any other job would have been retired long time ago. Just look at what is happening in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Uganda and our own Bio in Sierra Leone. We from the outside, not in Bio’s bubble can see all the mistakes he is making towards his development goals for our country. Apart from the free education policy he implemented, there is nothing else he can show for his leadership. Just chaos and confusion. For Bio’s presidency to succeed, he needs to get rid of some of his high valued tribalistic advisers. Right now it feels like he is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. It must be hard to be a president of an African country.

  3. Paul Biya – The man has been in power for 36 plus years, amassed extraordinary amount of possessions and money, yet he is still craving for more – he reminds me of the story of a greedy thoughtless ant that found a giant grain of corn that he later realized could not be squeezed into its tiny unspacious home; So he gladly stored it outside, went out again and found another that was much bigger in its size, and not knowing what else to do, he steered and parked it like a monster truck outside his door also, right next to the first one. And again he went out and found another, and yet another until the whole place began to closely resemble a farmers little harvest barn;(lol)

    African leaders and Presidents like Paul Biya are addicted to power and wealth; Yup, just like addicts with endless agonizing cravings seeking to maintain the ‘High’ they get from drugs and stimulants like Cocaine, LSD and Crystal Meth, so also can people in positions of esteemed authority be easily stimulated by Power in order to preserve and safeguard the assurances they experience that comes from feelings of honour, security and pre-eminence.

    Seriously, Paul Biya needs to go! And remember this time putting a muzzle on journalists and brutally shackling the media will not work – those days are gone Old man, these are new and purposeful times; Progressive times that are being steadily monitored, maneuvered, supported and controlled with precision just like the extensive masts of a sailing vessel at the mercy of the unrelenting winds – Its time to listen to voices of global awareness to cries for positive change, justice and sustainable peace.

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