Cameroon: Arrests and civil society bans risk inflaming tensions in English-speaking regions

The Cameroonian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release two civil society leaders arrested in the English-speaking part of the country, and lift the ban imposed on their organization, Amnesty International said today.
On 17 January the Minister of Territorial Administration banned the activities of the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC). The president of the CACSC, Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, and its Secretary General, Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, were arrested, sparking protests in the southwest city of Buea. 
On the same day both Agbor-Balla and Dr. Fontem Neba had signed a statement calling for protest activities to be carried out without violence.
“These two men have been arrested solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. This flagrant disregard for basic rights risks inflaming an already tense situation in the English-speaking region of the country and is clearly an attempt to muzzle dissent,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International Central Africa Researcher.
According to the Minister of Territorial Administration, “all activities, meetings and demonstrations initiated or promoted by the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), any other related groups with similar objectives or by anyone partisan to these groups, are hereby prohibited all over the national territory”.
The government has accused the two groups of supporting a series of demonstrations that began in late October 2016 across several cities in the English-speaking region of Cameroon. The protesters are calling, among other things, for an end to the use of French in courts and schools. This week a “ghost town” strike – where citizens are asked to remain at home – was called in the regions’ main cities. 
“This worrying pattern of arbitrary arrests, detention and harassment of civil society members is entirely at odds with the international human rights law and standards that Cameroon has committed to uphold,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
In December, at least two unarmed protestors were killed in Bamenda, the largest city in the English-speaking region, when security forces used live ammunition to disperse a protest.