Three Cameroonian activists pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism at a military tribunal in Yaoundé on Monday. Human rights lawyer Felix Agbor Balla, university lecturer Fontem Neba and radio host Mancho Bibixy were involved in organising protests over the last three months about perceived marginalisation in Cameroon's Anglophone regions.
The case at the military court was adjourned until 23 March and the defendants were returned to custody, according to lawyer Evaristus Morfaw. He said the state did not present any witnesses or put forward details of any investigation.
"By saying they were still carrying out the investigation, it means they put the cart before the horse, it means they have sent people to court without enough evidence," Morfaw told RFI by telephone from the capital following the hearing. "It is now that they are trying to get evidence from left and right," he added.
The accused are charged with acts of terrorism, complicity in acts of terrorism, insurrection, propagation of false news, calling for civil war and calling for a return to the federal system, according to Morfaw, who said defence lawyers have requested that the charge sheet be translated into English.
"We don't know what evidence they have against the people [the accused], nothing, we don't have access to the case file," said Morfaw, pointing out that some 100 lawyers showed up at Monday's hearing to represent the activists in an act of solidarity.
The case had already been delayed at the start of February with Cameroonian state media reporting that the adjournment was due to the unrelated funeral of a senior military official.
The three activists had been involved in calling for protests in Cameroon's Anglophone regions. Agbor Balla and Neba, leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, had organised so-called 'Ghost town' protests paralysing English-speaking cities including Bamenda and Buea with stay-at-home demonstrations. Mancho also led protests, notably carrying a coffin during a march in November.
Demonstrations were focused on a perceived lack of educational provision for the English language as well as the government's lack of recognition for the Anglophone legal system. Furthermore, the protests somewhat reignited long-standing calls for independence by members of the Southern Cameroons National Council.
Both the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and the Southern Cameroons National Council were both banned by the government in January.