From Ray.Mitchell@amnesty.org.uk Fri Jan 21 10:28:26 2000
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 00:00:22 -0600 (CST)
Subject: AI: Cameroon bulletin
Article: 87152y To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Fear of Torture and Ill-treatment; Harsh prison conditions
Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, AI Index: AFR,UA 13/00, 20 January 2000
CAMEROON -- Members of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), including:
Justice Frederick EBONG, high court judge
Amnesty International is concerned about the safety of members of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), including those named above, who were arrested on 8 and 9 January 2000 following demonstrations in Buea and Limbe, South-West Province.
Torture and ill-treatment of political detainees and criminal suspects in Cameroon are routine and conditions of detention in police stations, gendarmerie headquarters and prisons are extremely harsh. Severe overcrowding, poor hygiene and ventilation, inadequate food and medical care result in a high mortality rate.
Justice Frederick Ebong, Chief Ayamba and James Sam Sabum, all prominent SCNC members, have since been transferred to the capital, Yaounde. Some of those arrested were released after questioning. Amnesty International is concerned, however, that an unknown number of others may be held incommunicado by the gendarmerie (the paramilitary police) in Buea and Limbe where there is reported to be an increased security force presence. Access to detainees at gendarmerie headquarters is routinely denied.
The SCNC advocates increased autonomy for Cameroon's English-speaking minority and supports independence for the English-speaking North-West and South-West Provinces. During the demonstrations in Buea and Limbe members of the SCNC attempted to raise a flag pre-dating 1972. (In 1972 federal state institutions were replaced by a unitary state in which the French-speaking community is predominant.) On 31 December 1999, members of the SCNC were reported to have gained entry to national radio station premises in Buea, disarming a member of the security forces, and broadcast a taped message calling for independence.
No charges have yet been brought against those detained. Under Cameroon law, detainees should be referred to a judicial authority to be either charged or released within 72 hours of arrest.
At least 10 people arrested in connection with armed attacks in North-West Province in March 1997 died as a result of torture and ill-treatment at the time of their arrest or subsequent lack of medical care in detention. The authorities attributed the attacks, during which 10 people including three gendarmes died, to the SCNC and the affiliated Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL).
In October 1999, 36 alleged SCNC supporters were convicted of offences relating to the attacks in North-West Province after a unfair politically-motivated trial before a military tribunal in Yaounde. Three were sentenced to life imprisonment and the others to prison terms of up to 20 years. Eighteen remain imprisoned at the Central Prison, known as Nkondengui prison, in Yaounde. Another 30 were acquitted.
Five others who had collected signatures for an unofficial referendum on independence organized by the SCNC in September 1995 have been held for several years without charge or trial in Nkondengui prison: Abel Acha Apong, Chrispus Kenebie, John Kudi and Jack Njenta were arrested in September 1995 and Arrey Etchu Wilson in February 1997.
In November 1999 the United Nations Human Rights Committee, considering Cameroon's most recent report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified in 1984, expressed concern about the use of torture by the security forces and harsh prison conditions. It called on the government to take effective measures to ensure that detainees are protected from torture and ill-treatment and held in humane conditions.