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Amnesty International Report 1997 - Cameroon

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Cameroon, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9fb8.html [accessed 21 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Dozens of critics and opponents of the government, including journalists and members of opposition political parties, were arrested; some were convicted and imprisoned. Most were prisoners of conscience. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners remained routine. Many prisoners died because of harsh prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. An opposition politician was killed by a traditional ruler's personal force; no action was taken against those responsible.

A revised Constitution was promulgated in January. However, the amendments retained extensive presidential powers and did little to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. Local government elections took place in January. Although President Paul Biya's party, the Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais, Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), controlled a majority of local authorities, opposition parties – including the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and the Union nationale pour la démocratie et le progrès (UNDP), National Union for Democracy and Progress – made important gains, particularly in major towns. A subsequent government decree nominated government representatives to replace elected mayors in 20 significant authorities, including those held by opposition parties; protest demonstrations resulted in arrests and at least five deaths.

Opposition parties called for an independent electoral commission to oversee legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 1997; this was rejected by the CPDM.

In April, fighting broke out between the armed forces of Cameroon and Nigeria over a long-standing border dispute in the Bakassi peninsula. Intergovernmental organizations sought to mediate between the two countries.

Twelve Rwandans accused of participation in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 were arrested in March and April. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda requested in June that four be extradited but President Biya had not authorized their extradition by the end of the year; all 12 remained held.

Nine journalists were tried on criminal libel charges and sentenced to prison terms, although most were not imprisoned. Several others were held for short periods without charge. Newspapers were suspended. Some judicial procedures against journalists were marked by serious irregularities; prosecutions appeared to be attempts to inhibit criticism of prominent government members, their close associates, or government policies. In May, Vianney Ombe Ndzana, publisher of the newspaper Génération, was sentenced to five months' imprisonment and a fine for libel following publication of an article accusing a company director of professional misconduct; the court also ordered the suspension of Génération. Vianney Ombe Ndzana was not imprisoned, but in August he was seriously injured in an assault by unidentified armed men in Yaoundé. The following month, Nicolas Tejoumessie, editor of the weekly newspaper Challenge Nouveau, was abducted by four men claiming to be members of the security forces. He was taken some 30 kilometres outside Douala and severely beaten. In October, the Douala Court of Appeal convicted Pius Njawe, editor-in-chief of Le Messager, and a colleague, Eyoum Ngangué, of insulting the President and members of the National Assembly. The charges related to an article in December 1995 about draft constitutional amendments presented to the National Assembly. Initially only fined when the case was first heard in February, they had their sentences increased to fines and prison terms: Pius Njawe received six months and Eyoum Ngangué one year. Pius Njawe was imprisoned in the Central Prison, New Bell, Douala, where he was denied access to his doctor and medical treatment. He was conditionally released after 17 days. Eyoum Ngangué had not been imprisoned by the end of the year. Paddy Mbawa, publisher of the Cameroon Post, was released in August after a year's imprisonment for libel and publishing false information (see Amnesty International Report 1996). However, several similar cases against him were still pending. Four journalists associated with Le Nouvel Indépendant and Le Front Indépendant, established when Le Nouvel Indépendant was temporarily suspended, were detained in November and December; all were subsequently released without charge.

Seven UNDP members held since 1994 were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in March and remained imprisoned in Maroua Central Prison, in Far-North Province. Their appeal against conviction and sentence had not been heard by the end of the year. Another defendant was sentenced in absentia to 15 years' imprisonment and eight others received three-year suspended sentences. Twenty-eight UNDP members had been arrested and charged with complicity in various offences following clashes in Maroua in July 1994 (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996). There was no evidence of individual responsibility for any criminal act against those convicted. They were prisoners of conscience.

Officials and members of other opposition parties, in particular the SDF, were intimidated, arrested and detained. Six SDF members arrested in Mbanga, Littoral Province, during the January elections were charged with public order offences; they were conditionally released in August. In March, dozens of SDF members and supporters were arrested in Limbe, South-West Province, following demonstrations against the appointment of government representatives to replace elected mayors; 32 were held in administrative detention in Buea for six weeks, despite a court order that they be released. In June, shots were fired by security forces at the home of SDF Chairman John Fru Ndi in Bamenda, North-West Province. Also in June, Joseph Lavoisier Tsapy, a lawyer and SDF local government leader in Bafoussam, West Province, was abducted and held for four days by unidentified men, apparently members of the security forces; and Ndang George Achu, an SDF official in Santa, North-West Province, was held for two weeks under legislation introduced in December 1990 which allows administrative detention without safeguards against arbitrary imprisonment.

Suspected government opponents were frequently held longer than the 72 hours allowed by law before being referred to a judicial authority or released. In May, up to 30 striking teachers were arrested in Bafoussam; two women were reportedly seriously injured during beatings by the security forces. Most were released without charge after a week, but four trade union officials were charged with public order offences.

In June, up to 200 striking students at the University of Yaoundé were arrested. The arrests followed violent confrontations between students and security forces, and also a vigilante group known as auto-défense operating with the acquiescence of the university authorities and the security services. University buildings were burned and a university lecturer was assaulted. Most of the students were released shortly afterwards, but others remained held, in various places of detention, by police, the Centre national d'études et de recherches (the security police) and special units of the security forces. They were held until mid-July before being charged and conditionally released. Further arrests of students accused of provoking continuing unrest were made in October. Several students were detained overnight at the university by members of auto-défense, and were then transferred to the Ministry of Defence; all visits were refused for a week. They were later charged with public order offences. None had been tried by the end of the year.

At least three people arrested in 1995 during the collection of signatures for a referendum on independence for Cameroon's English-speaking provinces, organized by the Southern Cameroons National Council, remained held without charge in the Central Prison in Yaoundé, known as Nkondengui Prison, throughout the year (see Amnesty International Report 1996).

The case against four members of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Association was dismissed by a court in Bamenda in September, after their trial on charges of defamation and abuse was repeatedly adjourned because the complainant failed to appear in court. The charges related to tracts critical of an influential landowner and businessman who was also a prominent CPDM member (see Amnesty International Report 1996). However, the same charges were brought two months later and the trial was adjourned until early 1997.

In northern Cameroon, traditional rulers known as lamibe continued to illegally detain political opponents with the tacit approval of the government and to operate unofficial prisons in residences of the lamido and local dignitaries. At least seven men, two of them held since 1992, remained held on the orders of the lamido of Rey Bouba, North Province, a prominent supporter of the CPDM (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Some of those detained were reported to have died in detention as a result of ill-treatment and neglect.

Torture and ill-treatment of both political detainees and criminal suspects by the security forces remained routine. Beatings of detainees, who were often stripped, held in severely overcrowded cells and denied sanitary facilities, were common. Torture and ill-treatment of students arrested in June and October included beatings to the head, buttocks and feet, and electric shocks to the genitals. A student died in June, apparently after being stabbed and beaten during a confrontation between students and members of the security forces and auto-défense. No action was taken against those responsible.

Although prosecutions of those responsible for torture and ill-treatment were rare, in July a police inspector was convicted of assault and fined. The victim, a woman arrested in 1995, sustained serious injuries after being beaten, punched and kicked (see Amnesty International Report 1996).

Prison conditions throughout the country, and particularly in more isolated areas, remained extremely harsh and amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Severe deficiencies in food, sanitation and medical care resulted in a high mortality rate. For example, at the prison in Mantoum, West Province, and at New Bell prison in Douala, several deaths a week were reported. Seriously ill prisoners were denied medical treatment. Prisoners were punished by being tied up, suspended upside down and beaten; others, including prisoners under sentence of death at Tcholliré II prison, North Province, were permanently shackled.

A UNDP National Assembly member from Mayo Rey, North Province, died after being attacked by men acting on behalf of the lamido of Rey Bouba. Haman Adama Daouda, another UNDP politician and their delegation were attacked with sticks, knives and machetes while campaigning for the elections in January; Haman Adama Daouda subsequently died from head injuries. No action was taken against those responsible.

At least five people were reported to have died in incidents where excessive force appeared to have been used by the security forces. The victims included a criminal suspect shot while held at a gendarmerie headquarters in Douala in March.

Courts continued to pass death sentences and more than 100 prisoners remained under sentence of death. No executions took place.

Amnesty International called for the release of SDF members arrested in March; their subsequent release was confirmed in a response from the Minister of Justice. The organization also called for the release of imprisoned UNDP members. It called for the release of Pius Njawe and other detained journalists and urged that no journalists be imprisoned solely for their professional activities. Amnesty International urged that students arrested in June and October be protected from torture and ill-treatment; it called for safeguards to protect all prisoners and detainees from torture and ill-treatment and for impartial investigations into reports of torture, in order to bring those responsible to justice.

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