Cameroon's president has ordered a military court to halt its trial of Anglophone leaders to ease tensions with the country's minority English-speaking areas. The activists faced a possible death sentence if convicted.
President Paul Biya has issued a decree dropping terror-related charges against Anglophone civil society leaders and several supporters who were jailed amid unrest months ago.
The leaders of the country's minority English-speaking communities - Felix Agbor Balla, Fontem Aforteka'a Neba and Paul Ayah Abine - were arrested late last year following demonstrations by English speakers calling for equal treatment in the majority French-speaking nation.
The men are expected to be released soon, according to one of their lawyers.
The men were being tried under anti-terrorism laws that were established to combat Islamist Boko Haram militants. They faced a possible death sentence if they had been convicted.
"This decision stems from the head of state's firm resolve to continuously explore ways and means to seeking a peaceful solution to crises," read a statement released by the secretary general of the presidency on Wednesday.
The case stoked tensions in the country's English-speaking northwest and southwest regions, fueling opposition to Biya's government. The move to end the trial followed a growing wave of pressure from church officials, diplomats and an online campaign demanding their release.
Crackdown in Anglophone areas
Amnesty International has welcomed the government's decision to drop the case, but said the Anglophone leaders shouldn't have been arrested in the first place for helping organize non-violent protests last year.
The government's reaction to the unrest has been to crack down on Anglophone regions. Internet connections in the areas were cut for three months, and earlier this week authorities announced a ban on broadcasts from a South Africa-based channel SCBC.
The English-speaking minority can be traced back to Cameroon's unique history. At the end of World War II, the one-time German colony was handed to France and Britain to run.
Read more: After Namibia, could other former German colonies demand reparations?
During Cameroon's independence in the 1960s, the English-speaking voters opted to join Cameroon rather than neighboring Nigeria. The community has since said they've suffered discrimination.
rs/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)