Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1996 - Cameroon, 1 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9fa18.html [accessed 22 May 2013]
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Critics and opponents of the government, including journalists, human rights activists and members of opposition political parties, were arrested and some were convicted and imprisoned. Most were prisoners of conscience. Eight others arrested in 1994, who remained in detention throughout the year, were possible prisoners of conscience. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees remained routine. A man was shot dead after being apprehended by the security forces. Throughout the year journalists were harassed and detained, several independent newspapers were suspended and copies were repeatedly confiscated. Journalists criticized a new draft law on the press as reinforcing government restriction of press freedom. Opposition political parties were prevented from holding meetings and demonstrations. Local elections, repeatedly postponed, were scheduled for early 1996. Opposition parties called for an independent electoral commission and international observers. In November President Paul Biya presented to parliament draft amendments to the Constitution. Some opposition parties criticized the proposed reforms, which retained extensive presidential powers, and called for approval by referendum rather than adoption by parliament where the ruling party held a majority of seats. The revised Constitution was adopted the following month but had not been signed into law by the end of the year. There were intercommunal disturbances in North-West Province. Some 20 people died and many more were injured during clashes between the villages of Balikumbat and Bafanji in early June. Whereas in previous years opponents and critics of the government were usually held for short periods without charge or trial, during 1995 several were charged with criminal offences, tried and convicted. It appeared that legal provisions criminalizing defamation were used to prosecute people solely because of their opposition to the government and for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Journalists, many of them arrested on several occasions in the past, continued to be harassed and detained; at least four were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. Most appeared to be prisoners of conscience. Among them was Ndzana Seme, director of the newspaper Le Nouvel Indépendant, who was arrested in early June and held for more than two months in Nkondengui prison in Yaoundé after publishing an article criticizing the government. In August he was convicted of insulting the head of state, non-compliance with pre-publication censorship requirements and inciting revolt and received a two-month suspended sentence. The Attorney General appealed against this sentence and in October it was increased to one year's imprisonment and a fine. However, Ndzana Seme went into hiding. In July Paddy Mbawa, publisher of the Cameroon Post newspaper, was convicted of libel against a company director and sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a fine. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Central Prison, New Bell, in Douala, in August. Further charges were subsequently brought against him; in November he received two further sentences of three and six months' imprisonment after being convicted of two separate offences of publishing false information and several other similar cases against him were reportedly pending. Pius Njawe and Hiréné Atenga, respectively director and journalist of Le Messager, each received a two-month suspended sentence in August and a fine after being convicted of libelling and insulting the Secretary of State for National Security. The charges followed an article alleging that police had misappropriated large sums of money. According to reports, the court did not allow the two journalists to present in their defence information in support of their allegations. In late August around 18 news vendors selling the newspaper La Messagère (which appeared after its predecessor, Le Messager, was suspended) in Douala and Yaoundé were reported to have been arrested and held for two to three days. Pius Njawe, director of Le Messager, and Sévérin Tchounkeu, director of the newspaper La Nouvelle Expression, were detained and questioned for several hours apparently after expressing concern to the authorities about the detention of the news vendors. Mahamat Djibril, a member of a human rights group, the Mouvement pour la défense des droits de l'homme et des libertés (MDDHL), Movement for the Defence of Human Rights and Liberties, based in Maroua in Far-North Province, was detained in June. He was assaulted and arrested in Maga when he went to investigate alleged abuses by the police. The police officer who allegedly assaulted him had previously been criticized by the MDDHL for arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of detainees. Three days later the Public Prosecutor charged Mahamat Djibril with assaulting a police officer and causing a disturbance and he was transferred to prison in Yagoua. His trial was repeatedly postponed and a request for conditional release not granted until November. Mboua Massok, leader of the opposition Programme social pour la liberté et la démocratie, Social Program for Liberty and Democracy, was reportedly detained for three days in February. In July Simon Munzu, a prominent member of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), was held for questioning for several hours after the authorities prevented a meeting planned by the SCNC in Kumba,South-West Province, from taking place. The following month, an SCNC delegation including its leader Sam Ekontang Elad, was surrounded for more than 24 hours by heavily armed troops in Okoyong, preventing the delegation visiting Mamfe. Several people were arrested in September and October in connection with the collection of signatures for a referendum organized by the SCNC on independence for the English-speaking provinces. Five were reportedly still held without charge at the end of the year. Eight possible prisoners of conscience remained held in the Central Prison in Maroua throughout the year. They were among 28 members of the Union nationale pour la démocratie et le progrès (UNDP), National Union for Democracy and Progress, arrested in 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). They were charged with complicity in crimes including joint acts of looting and assault occasioning death following clashes between rival UNDP groups, during which one person died and several others were injured in Maroua in July 1994. It appeared that there was no evidence that they were personally responsible for the offences of which they were accused and that they had been imprisoned because of their opposition to the participation of two UNDP members in the government. Twenty detainees were provisionally released between February and April, including Hamadou Adji, president of the local section of the UNDP, but eight others remained held. The trial of all 28 defendants, initially scheduled for July, was repeatedly postponed. The case was finally heard in November and December; a decision was expected in early 1996. In October, four members of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Association (MBOSCUDA) were arrested without warrant in Bamenda, North-West Province, and detained by the judicial police. They were accused of publishing tracts critical of an influential landowner and businessman, Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, who was also a member of the central committee of the ruling Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais, Cameroon People's Democratic Movement. In September members of MBOSCUDA had submitted an official complaint to the Governor of North-West Province against Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, claiming that he was responsible for the harassment and intimidation, including arrest and detention, of members of the semi-nomadic pastoral Mbororo community. However, they denied responsibility for the tracts. They were released on bail after 10 days and charged with defamation and abuse. A court hearing in late December was adjourned until early 1996. Traditional rulers, known as lamibe, who have certain administrative powers but no powers of arrest, were responsible for harassment, illegal detention and ill-treatment of opponents. In many areas of northern Cameroon they detained supporters of opposition parties and other critics in unofficial prisons. For example, nine people, some held for two to three years, continued to be held on the orders of the lamido of Rey-Bouba, Northern Province (see Amnesty International Report 1994), either in the lamido's palace or in houses of local dignitaries. Some were held incommunicado. The lamibe appeared to act with the tacit approval of the authorities. Bakari Madi, who had been detained and tortured for more than six months in 1993 and 1994 because of his criticism of the lamido of Mindif, Far-North Province, initiated legal proceedings against the lamido. After repeated delays, the case was scheduled to be heard in February but the lamido and six other defendants failed to appear in court and the case was postponed. According to reports, the Public Prosecutor, under pressure from Ministry of the Interior officials, announced that the case could not proceed without authorization from the Minister of Justice; it had not been heard by the end of the year. In the few cases where legal proceedings against lamibe succeeded, the court's ruling was not always applied. Legislation introduced in December 1990, which allowed administrative detention without safeguards against arbitrary imprisonment, continued to be used to hold detainees indefinitely. Some appeared to be prisoners of conscience. On 9 May, five members of the traditional council of the village of Babanki Tungo, North-West Province, were detained and held under successive administrative detention orders in connection with a dispute over the boundary between two villages. They were reported to have been arrested after they requested the High Court of Mezam Division to order the Senior Divisional Officer to respect agreed boundaries. In response to a writ of habeas corpus, the Bamenda High Court ordered their release on 22 May. However, the administrative authorities refused to free them. They were finally released uncharged on 3 July. Torture, including severe beatings, of both political detainees and criminal suspects by the police and gendarmerie remained routine. There were several reports of torture and ill-treatment by police in Bamenda. In April a journalist associated with a non-governmental organization, the Human Rights Defence Group, was reported to have been arrested when he tried to stop police beating another man. Both men were taken to a police station where they were reported to have been stripped and beaten on the soles of their feet. A woman arrested by police in June sustained severe injur-ies, including fractured ribs, after being beaten, kicked and punched. She was held for about six days before being released without charge. At the time of his arrest in June, Mahamat Djibril (see above) was reported to have been physically assaulted by a senior police officer and subsequently detained and beaten by three other police officers. Legal action was taken against the three police officers who had beaten Mahamat Djibril and the case was due to be tried in early 1996. Prison conditions remained harsh. Diet and medical care were seriously deficient in prisons throughout the country. According to reports, many prisons, including New Bell prison in Douala, provided no medicines at all. Several of the UNDP members held in Maroua prison (see above) were initially denied the urgent medical treatment they required. Prisoners were reported to have been beaten and locked in cells without daylight. Detainees in pre-trial detention in police stations and gendarmerie headquarters were held in severely overcrowded conditions. Men, women and children were often held in the same cells. The four members of MBOSCUDA detained in Bamenda in October (see above) were reported to have been held in a small filthy cell with about 30 criminal prisoners, some handcuffed and others with their legs chained. In mid-December a man was shot dead after being apprehended by the security forces. Ebenezer Tamanfor failed to stop his vehicle and was pursued by two policemen in Mezam Division. According to reports, when he said that he had not realized that it was a police request to stop and had feared armed robbers, he was shot in the head. It was not clear whether an official investigation into his death would take place. At least two other people died in incidents where excessive force appeared to have been used by the security forces. In January a seven-year-old girl died when police in Yaoundé fired at a taxi which failed to stop. In February Amnesty International published a report, Cameroon: Arrests of political opponents and detention without trial, which called for the immediate and unconditional release of all those UNDP members detained solely because of their political opinions and for a fair and prompt trial for any against whom there was evidence of individual responsibility for criminal offences. It also urged that they and other prisoners in Maroua prison receive adequate medical care. The Minister of Justice responded in September, stating that the UNDP defendants had been charged with criminal offences under common law and that the case had been referred to the courts. Amnesty International urged the release of journalists detained solely for their professional activities. It also called for safeguards to protect all prisoners from torture and ill-treatment and for those responsible for such abuses to be brought to justice. Amnesty International urged the government to ensure respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the revised Constitution.