By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Human Rights Watch has accused the government of Cameroon of torturing detainees at the Kondengui Maximum prison in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde. According to the August 20 report, the Cameroon government held over 100 detainees and tortured many in a detention facility in Yaounde from July 23 to August 4, 2019.
The detainees were transferred to the facility, the State Defense Secretariat (Secrétariatd’État à la défense, SED), the morning after inmates in Yaoundé’s Central Prison rioted on July 22 in protest at overcrowding, dire living conditions, and delays in their cases getting to trial. Many were in detention on suspicion of being involved with or supporting armed separatist groups operating in English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said “These credible accounts of torture and abuse out of the State Secretariat are sadly not the first, but only the most recent” while adding that “The security forces’ apparent belief that they are free to torture and otherwise abuse detainees is a direct consequence of the Cameroonian government turning a blind eye to reports about the abuse-but the world is watching.”
According to Cameroon’s Minister of Communication René Emmanuel Sadi dated August 2, 224 prisoners were transferred from the Central Prison to police and gendarmerie units in Yaoundé for questioning but however did not specify which facilities.
Human Rights Watch has established that at least 100 of the prisoners were taken to the SED. “The whereabouts of the majority was unknown for almost two weeks. When an individual’s detention is followed either by a refusal to acknowledge the detention or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts, this constitutes an enforced disappearance, an egregious human rights violation”, Human Rights Watch said.
A 26-year-old detainee from Manyu division, South-West Region, told Human Rights Watch: “The beatings started in Kondengui and continued at the SED. We were treated very badly and beaten up at least twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, with electric cables, clubs, and machetes. We slept on wet floors for two weeks. We had no access to any medical service.”
A 32-year-old Anglophone detainee from Bamenda, North West Region equally told Human Rights Watch, “I was beaten, taken out of Kondengui half-naked. I was brought to the SED with other detainees, mostly Anglophones. I was held in a small cell underground with around 20 other people. The guards beat us with sticks and electric cables. I was beaten like a snake. The food and hygiene were simply deplorable.”
“In the SED, nobody had access to family members. I think my family thought that I was dead. Some lawyers came the day before we were brought back to Kondengui [Central Prison]. But for 12 days, we were held in secret, with no access to the outside world. If you asked to see anyone, you would be badly beaten” a 41-year-old detainee from Ndu, North West Region said.
.Since late 2016, a cycle of civil protests there, followed by government repression, has escalated to hostilities between government forces and armed separatist groups, resulting in over 2,000 deaths. Others included members and supporters of the opposition party Cameroon Renaissance Movement (Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun, MRC).
Human Rights Watch has previously documented conditions at SED and said they are appalling, with poor hygiene and sanitation and lack of appropriate medical care. Detainees also reported overcrowding, inadequate and insufficient food, and no access to fresh air, according to HRW.