Date: Fri, 7 Nov 97 13:11:35 CST
From: Ray Mitchell <RMITCHEL%AI-UK@amnesty.org.uk>
Subject: AI: Cameroon bulletin
Fear of torture and ill-treatment of possible prisoners of conscience
Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, AI Index: AFR 1727/97,UA 353/97, 7 November 1997
CAMEROON -- Members and supporters of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) including:
Amnesty International is seriously concerned that many of the large number of members and supporters of the main opposition political party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), who remain in detention after being arrested during the period of the presidential election on 12 October 1997 are at risk of torture and ill-treatment. It also appears that many of them may be prisoners of conscience, arrested and detained only because of the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association.
The SDF and the Union nationale pour la democratie et le progres (UNDP), National Union for Democracy and Progress, together with two smaller opposition political parties, refused to contest the presidential election in the absence of an independent electoral commission and called for a boycott of the election. President Paul Biya was re-elected for a seven-year term on 12 October.
There were large-scale arrests of SDF members and supporters in several towns and villages in the period before and after the election. Among those reported to remain in detention are Justin Pokam and Thomas Seme who were arrested in the capital, Yaounde, on 9 October and taken to a police station where they were reported to have been seriously beaten. In Ebolowa, South Province, a prominent SDF official, Konga Philip Kuate, was initially arrested on 6 October and held for six hours; he was rearrested on 12 October, accused of distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of the election. Although eight people arrested in Bafia, Central Province, were released after the election, two others, Victoria Musong and Gregoire Diboule, were reported to have been arrested on 29 October and questioned about the SDF's activities.
In Santa, North-West Province, 24 people were arrested between 7 and 14 October, accused of calling for the boycott of the election, and transferred to the headquarters of the gendarmerie, the paramilitary police, in Bamenda. Although five were released on 24 October, the others remain held in particularly harsh conditions and are reported to be ill-treated. In Ako, also in North-West Province, 29 people have been held since 15 October. A further five - Oliver Finya, Wavie Asago, Richard Nyieka, Stephen Aka and Julius Mbenya - were arrested in Ako on 20 October; they are being held in administrative detention for a renewable period of 15 days under the provisions of legislation passed in December 1990 which gives the administrative authorities broad powers of detention without charge or trial.
As many as 20 members and supporters of the UNDP were arrested in Far-North Province on 10 October because of their boycott of the election. They were reported to have been publicly tortured, including beatings to the soles of their feet, by soldiers before being detained at a police station. On the day of the election they were escorted to the polling station and ordered to vote. They were only released after paying bribes to the security forces. The Bishop of the Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo publicly denounced their torture and detention.
On 16 September 1997 Amnesty International published a report - Cameroon: Blatant disregard for human rights - which documented the Cameroon Government's continuing and increasing contempt and disregard for human rights. Hundreds of critics and opponents of the government, including members and supporters of opposition political parties, journalists, human rights activists and students, have been harassed, assaulted, arrested and imprisoned. Torture and ill-treatment of both political detainees and common law prisoners remain routine. There have been at least five deaths during 1997 as a result of torture and ill-treatment and subsequent lack of medical care. Prisoners and detainees are held in conditions which deny their basic rights and which pose a threat to both health and life.