The ICJ today condemned the arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention of lawyer Felix Agbor-Balla and Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba. They have been charged with a number of offences involving terrorism; rebellion against the State; incitement of civil unrest and breach of the Constitution.
Felix Agbor-Balla (photo) and Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, respectively President and Secretary General of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), were arrested on 17 January 2017, after the Minister of Territorial Administration banned all activities, meetings and demonstrations of the CACSC and the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC).
Since late October 2016, Cameroon has faced a number of demonstrations in several cities in the English-speaking regions of the country.
The protesters have been calling for an end of the use of the French language in courts and schools, among other demands, and the government has accused the two organizations, CACSC and SCNC, of supporting these activities.
The protests began after an indefinite strike by school teachers in the city of Bamenda, by youth protesting against alleged neglect of the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
Felix Agbor-Balla and Fontem Aforteka’a Neba are currently detained incommunicado at the Yaounde Central Prison in Kondegui, which is far from where family members live. Their trial which had been set for 1 February 2017 was postponed without notice or due cause to 13 February 2017.
The charges they face require evidence establishing that they incited or carried out acts of violence or, that they were the instigators of the protests and demonstrations.
The two were arrested on the same day where they had signed a statement calling for protest activities to be carried out without violence.
If convicted of the charges, the two may face the death penalty.
The ICJ is concerned that the two men are being held incommunicado, in contravention of international standards, where they are vulnerable to ill-treatment.
The ICJ is also concerned at allegations that their charges stem from exercise of their internationally protected human rights, including rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
“Detaining the two incommunicado and prolonged detention without access to a judge violates their right to liberty and to a fair trial, which is protected under both international law and the law of Cameroon,” said Arnold Tsunga ICJ Africa Director.
The ICJ considers that Felix Agbor-Balla and Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba should be immediately released.
If there should be reliable and admissible evidence to charge them with a cognizable crime for conduct not protected under human rights law, they should be immediately brought before a judicial authority to determine whether there is a lawful basis for trial and to determine whether they may be released.
In any event they should be removed from incommunicado detention and be granted full access to a lawyer, doctor if necessary, and family members.
Under no circumstances should they be subjected to the possibility of the death penalty.
ICJ further calls on the authorities in Cameroon to comply with their obligations under the treaties to which it is party, including as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
These treaties guarantee the rights to a fair trial, liberty and freedom of expression, association and assembly, among other rights.
The ICJ opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, as a violation the right to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
The ICJ calls on Cameroon to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to abolition, in line with repeated calls by the UN General Assembly.
Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Regional Director for Africa, t: +27 716405926 or +263 777 283 249: e: arnold.tsunga(a)icj.org
Mary Pais Da Silva, Associate Legal Adviser, t: +268 7603 0078, e: mary.paisdasilva(a)icj.org