28 April 2017

Cameroon - Civil Action Brought Against Anglophone Activists in Terrorism Case

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Maillet de Justice

The case against three Anglophone activists in Cameroon charged with terrorism was adjourned on Thursday while the military judge decides on an application for bail, a defence lawyer told RFI. Human rights lawyer Felix Agbor Balla, university lecturer Fontem Neba and radio host Mancho Bibixy have pleaded not guilty to terrorism. They were involved in organising protests in Cameroon's Anglophone regions over perceived marginalisation by the Francophone government.

The defence was "ambushed" during Thursday afternoon's hearing, said lawyer Manyi Becky Orock. Three lawyers representing civil parties came before the military tribunal in Yaoundé claiming damages against the accused.

"They're talking about someone who was wounded," said Orock. "Who is that person, who are those who are trying to complain that they have suffered injury during this Anglophone crisis?" she added.

The defence objected to the civil parties being brought before the court. Orock said lawyers for the accused argued that the court should have been provided with a letter from the head of the Cameroon Bar Association in order to follow proper legal procedure before lawyers for civil parties could appear in court. Furthermore, it was not clear who the civil parties are, according to Orock.

"They cannot be representing people that we have not seen before the court, there were no civil parties before the court, how could they say they were representing the civil parties," the lawyer said.

The prosecution brought witnesses to the hearing, however none of them gave testimony, said Orock. "They were all military personnel," she said. Applications for bail were filed by the defence and the hearing was adjourned for the judge to consider.

"Seriously, the prosecution is not ready," said Orock, "it seems they were only looking for an adjournment."

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.

The state prosecutor in Cameroon had previously asked the judge to add a number of extra people to the case. The so-called Joinder of Parties process involves adding extra defendants to a case after a complaint has been filed.

Agbor Balla and Neba played a role in organising so-called 'Ghost town' protests which brought English-speaking cities such as Bamenda and Buea to a standstill. Mancho was also involved in demonstrations notably carrying a coffin during a march.

Protests in the Anglophone regions began last year over a perceived lack of education provision for the English language and non-recognition of the Anglophone legal system.

Cameroon was divided up into French and British administrative zones as laid out in the 1919 London Declaration. The British zone represented some 20 per cent of the country before Cameroon became a country, comprising both the British and French zones, gaining independence in 1961.

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