In February the security forces killed as many as 100 people during protests against price rises and against a constitutional amendment that would extend the President’s term of office. As part of a strategy to stifle opposition, the authorities perpetrated or condoned human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Human rights defenders and journalists were harassed and threatened. Men and women were detained because of their sexual orientation.
In late February, riots erupted in a number of towns, including the political capital, Yaoundé, and the economic capital, Douala. The protesters were demonstrating against the escalating cost of living, low wages and plans by the government to amend the Constitution to remove a provision barring President Paul Biya from standing as a presidential candidate in 2011.
Tens of thousands of Chadians fled to northern Cameroon in February when armed political groups attacked Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.
On 14 August, Nigeria handed over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, in accordance with a 10 October 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice. Armed groups thought to originate in Nigeria launched several attacks on government and security installations in the peninsula, killing a number of members of the Cameroonian security forces and government officials.
"Homophobia is endemicand prosecutions of suspected gay men leading to imprisonment continued."
The security forces routinely used excessive and unnecessary lethal force and no investigations were carried out into unlawful killings by members of the security forces.
- In late February, the security forces killed as many as 100 people when repressing violent protests across the country. Some people were apparently shot in the head at point-blank range. In Douala, some were reported to have drowned after being forced to jump into the Wouri river under fire. Many people with gunshot wounds were denied medical care and some died as a result.
- On 29 June, dozens of prisoners escaped from New Bell prison in Douala. Fifteen were reportedly shot dead by prison guards and other security forces in the ensuing manhunt. The next day René Mireille Bouyam, who lived beside the prison, was shot and fatally wounded when a prisoner was found hiding in his house. The prisoner was also shot dead.
Freedom of expression – journalists
Journalists reporting corruption or critical of the government faced arbitrary arrest and politically motivated defamation charges. The authorities shut down Equinoxe television station and two radio stations, Radio Equinoxe and Magic FM, in February. Several journalists covering the February protests were assaulted by the security forces. The government allowed the stations to resume broadcasting in July, but Magic FM was unable to do so because its equipment had been seized and apparently destroyed.
- On 27 February, Eric Golf Kouatchou, a cameraman at the Canal 2 International television station, was arrested on his way to cover protests in Bonanjo near Douala. His equipment was confiscated and he and 36 other young men were detained and beaten before being released.
- Marie Noëlle Guichi and Jean-François Channon of Le Messager were arrested on 3 June after reporting a corruption scandal linked to the purchase of a defective presidential jet. Although the two journalists were granted bail, they faced imprisonment if convicted.
- On 15 October, police in Yaoundé arrested three newspaper editors who were planning to publish articles accusing the director of an educational institution of taking bribes. Max Mbida of Le Tenor de l’Info was reportedly held for a few days. Armand Ondoua of Le Régional and Zacharie Flash Diemo of Le Zénith were still held at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders who criticized the government’s human rights record faced harassment and threats.
- Alhadji Mey Ali, president of OS-Civile human rights group in Extreme-North Province, was arrested on 20 February and tried the following day. He was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 1 million CFA francs (nearly US$2,000) after the High Court convicted him of criminal defamation.
- Madeleine Afite of ACAT-Littoral (Actions des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture) received death threats and her car was wrecked in early March after she denounced abuses during the February riots.
- On 28 March, a procuracy official in Maroua reportedly telephoned and threatened Abdoulaye Math, president of the Movement for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (MDDHL). On 3 April, guards at Maroua prison denied Abdoulaye Math access to detainees he had been asked by the Court of Appeal to represent in court.
Freedom of assembly
The security forces used violence, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions to prevent opposition political activists from holding meetings.
- Mboua Massock ma Batalon was arrested on 16 February in Zoétélé to prevent him from holding a public rally to demand the President’s resignation. During skirmishes at the rally, gendarmes and police arrested several people including Mboua Massock’s son, Camille Massock, reportedly beating him severely. Those arrested were released without charge within a few days.
- Paul Eric Kingué, mayor of Njombé-Penja county in Nkongsamba, Littoral Province, was arrested on 29 February and accused of involvement in the riots and inciting revolt. He claimed that he was arrested because he had challenged tax evasion by French farmers and powerful elements in the government.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
Political opponents of the government were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Those targeted included members of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the main opposition party, and the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) – a group supporting independence for anglophone provinces.
- At least 20 SCNC members, including Fidelis Chinkwo Ndeh, were arrested in Bamenda on 10 February and at least seven were arrested the following day. At the end of the year, nearly 40 members of the SCNC were awaiting trial on charges ranging from wearing SCNC T-shirts to agitating for secession.
- At least 23 members of the main faction of the SDF were detained without trial for more than two and a half years, accused of killing Grégoire Diboulé, a member of a dissident SDF faction, in May 2006. In November, the High Court in Yaoundé ordered the unconditional release of one of the detainees and the provisional release of the others. The leader of the SDF, John Ni Fru Ndi, was also charged with the killing but had not been detained by the end of the year.
More than 1,500 people arrested during the February protests were brought to trial unusually swiftly, with little or no time to prepare their defence. Many of the defendants had no legal counsel, while others were denied time to consult their lawyers. The trials were summary in nature. Hundreds of defendants were sentenced to between three months and two years in prison. Despite a presidential amnesty in June, hundreds remained in prison at the end of the year, either because they had appealed or because they could not afford to pay court-imposed fines.
- Two musicians and political activists, Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo (also known as Lapiro de Mbanga) and Joe de Vinci Kameni (also known as Joe La Conscience), were arrested in March and April respectively, after singing songs critical of the President. Joe de Vinci Kameni was convicted of inciting people to demonstrate and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo was convicted of complicity in the riots and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a large fine. Joe de Vinci Kameni was among 139 prisoners released in an amnesty on 16 June.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
The Penal Code criminalizes same-sex sexual relations. Homophobia is endemic in Cameroonian society and prosecutions of suspected gay men leading to imprisonment continued on a regular basis.
- Two men were convicted in March of same-sex acts and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and a fine. They were released because they had already spent more than six months in custody. The detainees had been subjected to humiliating anal examinations.
- In May, police in Lomié, Eastern Province, arrested two young women on suspicion of same-sex acts. While in custody, the police reportedly forced the two women to denounce four others as their “accomplices”.
Prisons and other detention centres were habitually overcrowded and unhygienic. Medical care and food were often not provided. Children were held together with adults and, at times, men were held together with women. Disturbances and escape attempts were frequent. Prison guards were poorly trained and equipped.
- At least 10 inmates died and as many as 78 sustained injuries after a fire broke out at New Bell prison on 20 August. New Bell prison was built in the 1930s for a prisoner population of 700 inmates but was holding nearly 4,000.
Courts continued to impose the death penalty, although no executions have been reported since 1997. On 20 May a presidential decree commuted an unspecified number of death sentences to life imprisonment.
In December Cameroon abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Amnesty International visits
The authorities did not grant Amnesty International access to the country.