CIVICUS speaks to a civil society member in Cameroon (who asked to remain anonymous) following the arrest in September of members of the non-governmental organisation Dynamic Citizen for holding a governance workshop
1. What is Dynamic Citizen and what does it do?
Dynamic Citizen (Dynamique Citoyenne) is a network of Cameroonian civil society organisations committed to monitoring public policies and cooperation strategies. Dynamic Citizen has a national coverage and is present in all the 10 regions of Cameroon.
It aims at influencing public policies through social mobilisation by raising the awareness of local populations on issues pertaining to financial governance ( such as budget analysis), political governance (including fighting against corruption, freedom to protest) and other human rights related issues like access to water and other social amenities. Recently, Dynamic Citizen has been engaged in an international campaign dubbed “Tournons la Page’’ (Let’s turn the Page) that addresses electoral governance and change of leadership in African countries.
2. What happened on September 15, the day that members of Dynamic Citizen were arrested?
On September 15, 2015 (which is the International Day of Democracy) Dynamic Citizen organised a workshop under the theme “Electoral governance and democratic alternation in Cameroon’’ in a bit to launch the “Tournons la Page” campaign at a national level and to set-up a national coalition to carry out an advocacy action programme aimed at changing Cameroon’s electoral code. Dynamic Citizen actually thinks that alternation of political power can never be achieved with the current electoral code that gives way to so many setbacks and prevents any transparent and credible election.
During the workshop mentioned above, heavily armed squads (policemen and Gendarmes ─ a special police unit) stormed the workshop room and ordered the participants to stop the meeting and to leave the hall. In the process, they brutalised many, confiscated cameras and mobile phones and subsequently arrested five Dynamic Citizen members and a journalist. They were all charged with “illegal manifestation and simple rebellion”.
It is worth noting that the September 15 event was not a public gathering per se, but rather it was a workshop and, as such, it did not require any prior notification and was not subject to prior authorization from public authorities. Usually, workshops are held without any police clearance. We think that this workshop was specifically targeted because the issues being addressed by the workshop were very politically sensitive. The government is not comfortable with such issues being discussed.
3. What happened at the court appearance on October 28?
The case was not tried and instead has been postponed to December 23, 2015.
4. What is the general environment for human rights defenders in Cameroon?
The environment is not quite enabling. The situation is worsened by the current context of insecurity that led Parliament, last December, to adopt an anti-terrorism law that can, in many respects, be used against demonstrators and/or "human rights defenders’’. It is a worrying situation.
5. What can international players do to assist Cameroon civil society?
International NGOs and the United Nations can be of great use to Dynamic Citizen, namely in terms of security of its headquarters and its members, specifically the National Focal Point who is in danger. So far, any activity related to “Tournons la Page” is forbidden by our public authorities. The UN and INGOs can also carry out a broad communication campaign at the international level so as to raise awareness internationally and inform public opinion of what is happening to us. This will also push our government to know that the world is watching. Any other support is also welcome.
6. Do you feel the government of Cameroon is using the fight against Boko Haram to silence NGOs?
To some extent, yes. With regard to the flexible and wide meaning given to 'terrorism' and 'anti-terror laws', the anti-terrorism law is viewed by Cameroon’s civil society and political opposition in general as a means of not only stamping out Boko Haram but also threatening public protests in Cameroon.