Cameroon’s increasing clampdown on civil society and civic freedoms is being strongly condemned by global and national civil society organisations (CSOs). CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Cameroonian civil society network, Plateforme Nationale des Organisations de la Société Civile du Cameroun (PLANOSCAM) are concerned for several activists who will appear in court on October 28 for organising a workshop without permission. Especially worrying is the use of anti-terror dialogue to justify violations of freedoms of association and assembly.
“We have received reports of human rights defenders being threatened anonymously through phone calls and text messages. In some instances, offices of civil society organisations have been burgled and vandalised to intimidate them from exposing human rights violations. This is completely unacceptable,” said Teldah Mawarire, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS.
Ironically, the seven members of the civil society group Dynamic Citizen (Dynamique Citoyenne) face judicial proceedings for their involvement in a workshop held to mark the International Day of Democracy in the capital, Yaoundé, to discuss electoral governance and democratic change.
“We are against the government’s attempts to shrink civil society space. Democracy is about citizen participation and the ability of civil society to express themselves freely,” said Arthur Tonye a founding member of PLANOSCAM. “The government is using the anti-terror discourse to deny CSOs permission to gather even for private meetings which are not demonstrations.”
The seven were arrested on September 15 and 16 for convening the workshop without authorisation, despite having informed the authorities and despite authorisation only being required for public demonstrations. Accusations against the arrested civil society members include engaging in rebellion, resisting arrest, and violating public order.
CIVICUS’ Civil Society Watch Report 2015 notes that throughout the course of last year, Cameroon’s government used judicial harassment as a tactic against human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists. Authorities also curtailed freedom of the press and targeted LGBTI activists and groups.
The arrested activists include Jean Marc Bikoko, executive president of the Central Trade Union of the Public Sector (Centrale Syndicate du Secteur Public), which represents the social interests of public sector workers in Cameroon. The other activists and journalist were Jessy Bikoko, Bikoko Lejuste, Agnes Adelaide Metougou, Epangue Njallah, Leon Martial Ngaba and Jean Baptiste Sipa.
CIVICUS and PLANOSCAM are urging the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and Cameroon’s trade and development partners to engage Cameroonian authorities in a dialogue with a view to creating an enabling environment for civil society and democratic rights - in line with Cameroon’s obligations under regional and international human rights instruments.