In Cameroon, thousands of people are caught in a cross-fire; the terror of Boko Haram on one side, and the violent abuses of the government's response on the other.
In just one year, over 170,000 people from across the country have fled their homes in the wake of the violent Boko Haram attacks that have killed hundreds in the Far North region of Cameroon.
But the response from the Cameroonian authorities to the terrorist threat has been terrifying and abusive. Thousands of security forces have been deployed, rounding up whole villages and arresting men and boys without explanation or warrant, then torturing and disappearing them.
Our security forces made us suffer even more than Boko Haram.
The day the soldiers came to our village
“On 27 December 2014, shots were heard in the village. Everyone scattered, thinking it was Boko Haram. We were relieved to see that it was the Cameroonian army arriving and, feeling reassured, returned to the village. To our great surprise, the soldiers began to break down our doors, enter our homes and order us outside. They took us to the centre of the village where everyone was gathered. They told us to lie face down on the ground, and they began to search everyone.
The soldiers picked out men and boys and random and loaded them onto trucks.
The soldiers then picked men and boys out at random. They beat them, dragged them along the ground and took their clothes, leaving them with nothing but their trousers. Then they loaded them onto the trucks. I couldn’t see my son’s face as the soldiers ordered him onto the truck. I was too scared to look up as the soldiers were pointing their guns at us. I haven’t seen my son since that day, nor had any news of him."
The authorities have since confirmed that 25 of those taken from the villages of Magdeme and Doublé died that very night in detention. But no-one knows who and where they are buried. And almost two years on, nothing has yet been seen or heard of the others – more than 130 – despite their relatives’ best efforts. They have simply disappeared.
The soldiers killed my sister and her 7-year-old daughter. All the men, including my husband and my sons, were put into trucks and led away.
From students to journalists – everyone can be a suspect
Fomusoh Ivo Feh was just a 25-year-old student when he was arrested for sending a sarcastic message to his friends. In it he wrote about the challenge of getting a good job in Cameroon and joked it was easier to get into Boko Haram: “Boko Haram recruits young people from 14 years-old and above. Conditions for recruitment: 4 subjects at GCE, plus religion.” Soon after, Ivo was arrested and charged with 'trying to organise a rebellion against the state.” If convicted, Ivo could face up to 20 years in jail.
Ivo is far from alone in his experience of the authorities’ brutal crackdown. The Cameroonian government’s passing of a new Anti-Terror Law has had devastating consequences for hundreds, a result of its vague and broad definition of terrorism. People have been arrested for crimes such as not having an identity card, or having recently visited Nigeria.
The new law was used to charge journalist Ahmed Abba with “complicity and non-denunciation of terrorist acts” after he reported on Boko Haram. Ahmed was held in secret for 3 months and tortured; if convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
“The prosecutor never has to call witnesses. He’ll say that there’s an informant who says the defendant is a Boko Haram, and that’s enough.”
“To be in this prison is like being on death row"
There are more than 1,000 people accused of supporting Boko Haram in prison right now; the new law allows for them to be detained indefinitely with no access to their families or lawyers. More than 100 have been sentenced to death by military courts and conditions in the cells are horrific, amounting to torture.
Two prisoners were beaten up so badly that they died in front of us. That night we slept in the cell with two dead bodies.
In Maroua prison, for example, up to 8 people die each month from the terrible conditions: overcrowding – there are nearly 1,500 people in a building built for 350 – and malnutrition. They cannot stretch their legs while sleeping and so take turns to do so.