By Laura Crimaldi*
Fabian Fomuki, a Canton resident, had just returned to his hotel in his native Cameroon in June when a group of masked men armed with guns abducted him, threw a bag over his head, and loaded him into a car, according to his family.
More than three months later, Fomuki, an American citizen, remains in the custody of government authorities in Cameroon, but hasn’t been charged with a crime, US officials said. His sister, Harriet Fomuki, said he was targeted due to his activism on behalf of Cameroon’s English-speaking minority.
“The world needs to know what’s going on,” Harriet Fomuki, 41, said Saturday in a telephone interview. “We’re hoping that someone will come to our rescue.”
Fabian Fomuki, 45, is married and has three young sons in Canton, she said. He works as a mental health counselor at a group home.
His ordeal began June 20 when he was captured in Douala, but the conflict between English speakers and the government in the largely Francophone country stems from colonial times when separate parts of the nation gained independence from the French and British.
Fabian Fomuki was born in the country’s English-speaking region, which joined Cameroon in 1961. Over the last year, the area, also known as Southern Cameroons, has been the site of violent clashes with government forces. The conflict has led to school closures, Internet blackouts, and the jailing of dissidents.
Last week, government security forces shot dead 17 people, Amnesty International said, during gatherings on the 56th anniversary of the incorporation of Anglophone regions into the country. The protests were in support of independence for some English-speaking sections of Cameroon, the Associated Press reported.
“The Cameroonian government’s use of force to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly, and violence by protestors, are unacceptable,” the statement said. “We urge the Government of Cameroon to respect human rights and freedom of expression, including access to the internet.”
Harriet Fomuki, a US citizen who lives in Lexington, said her family learned of her brother’s abduction in June after he missed business appointments, didn’t answer his cellphone, or respond to instant messages.
Fabian Fomuki was in Douala to visit relatives and help with his family’s auto parts business, his sister said.
Cameroonian authorities later informed US embassy officials in Yaoundé, the country’s capital, that he had been detained, she said.
The government let a Cameroonian lawyer hired by Fabian Fomuki’s family and some of his brothers visit him at a police station in Yaoundé, Harriet Fomuki said.
During the meeting, her brother said his captors beat him and injected him three times with an unknown substance, she said. Harriet Fomuki said she hasn’t spoken with her brother since his detention, but has learned details of his situation from others who have talked with him.
In the last month, she said, Fabian Fomuki has been transferred to the Kondengui Central Prison. Harriet Fomuki described the detention facility as a “concentration camp” where prisoners have been killed.
“Conditions are horrible,” she said.
She said she believes Cameroonian officials had tracked her brother’s political activities in the United States, where he protested against the government’s treatment of English-speaking citizens at demonstrations in Boston and at UN headquarters in New York.
The protests were organized by the Southern Cameroons Public Affairs Committee, a promoter of the rights of English-speaking Cameroonians. Harriet Fomuki is the group’s treasurer.
She said she believes her brother was photographed by Cameroonian spies during a UN protest, which was held last March.
Cameroon is led by President Paul Biya, who came to power in 1982. His office said Saturday no one was available to discuss Fabian Fomuki. Cameroon’s embassy in Washington, D.C., didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.
On Thursday, a group of Cameroonian expatriates submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging the international body to put pressure on Cameroon’s government to end its abuse of English-speaking citizens.
“Our hope is the UN will conduct its own investigation into the atrocities,” said Christina Hioureas, an attorney at Foley Hoag LLP, who represents the group.
Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have also written to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about Fabian Fomuki and Patrick Ndongo, a US resident from Maryland who was also detained in Cameroon.
“We urge you to call upon the government of Cameroon to abide by its commitments to respect the rights of its citizens and to either appropriately charge or release imprisoned US citizens and residents,” said the letter signed by US Representatives Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, Niki Tsongas, and Joseph P. Kennedy III.
*Source Bostn Globe.Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com.