By Amos Fofung
Uneasy calm has returned to the Kondengui Central Prison in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde after Anglophone inmates protested the circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas Nganyu Tangem, detained in relation to the simmering crisis in the North West and South West regions. Before his demise, a photo of him shackled to his sickbed had gone viral on social media.
The angry detainees demanded explanations from prison authorities concerning the disturbing circumstances under which Tangem died in the nation’s political capital. The angry inmates said the deceased was subjected to inhumane and barbaric treatment before his death on August 5, 2020.
Sources in Yaounde told Pan Africa Visions that Tangem had been sick for over five months, but was allegedly neglected and abandoned in jail. He is said to have been rushed to hospital on July 25, 2020, only when his situation deteriorated.
Images of him chained to a hospital bed despite his critical health situation flooded social media platforms with outright condemnation from members of the public and the Cameroonian diaspora.
Lead Counsel for the defense team of Anglophone crisis detainees, Barrister Amungwa Tanyi Nicomdemus issued a statement concerning the death of Tangem. Amungwa detailing that, he died in chains “to the satisfaction of the prison and justice administrators”.
“The chairman of communication and media for the defense team of Ayuk Tabe and other Southern Cameroonian detainees announce with deep regret the death of Tangem Thomas at 10 minutes to six in the morning this August 5th, 2020 at the Yaounde Central Hospital. Pa Tom died in chains to the satisfaction of the prison and justice administrators. The corpse is about now being kept in the mortuary of the Central Hospital Yaounde,” the lawyer said in a statement. Local news report that Tangem, a metal sheet engineer from the North West region was reportedly arrested in Mile 16, Buea South west region in 2018. He is said to have been ferried to the Secretariat of State Defense, SED before later transferred to the Kondengui Maximum security prison.
Spending over three years in detention without trial, Wife, and close family members of Thomas Nganyu Tangem recount the inhumane and ferocious living conditions he was faced with before succumbing to death. “My husband excreted, and urinated in his pants for four days and was left unattended”, the wife said in an interview with The Voice newspaper before adding that he was blindfolded, forced to sleep on wet floors and chained for weeks.
Reacting to the death of the detainee, retired Supreme Court Advocate General, Ayah Paul Abine wrote that, “died in chains as a Southern Cameroonian. This man died in chains, died this day August 5, 2020, not as a prisoner of war he was, prisoner for being who he was” adding that “a rare gentleman that I knew, he was in quiet disposition or just cracking jokes, working round the clock was his noble task only to depart in this manner most degrading for being born where it pleased the Lord to choose”.
Tsi Conrad, one of the Anglophone crisis detainees currently serving a 15-year jailed term penned an emotional tribute to late Tangem shortly after he died.
“At the foot of the hill he died, from pain and misery, chained to his bed by evil, never did he want to escape, the oppressor killed him slowly,” Tsi wrote, further adding that “without judgment, he prayed to go home, 3 years behind bars in dungeon of pain, hope made way for delusion today August 25. For nothing, Pa Tangem Thomas died in body, but his soul bow looks from above at his foe”.
Agbor Felix Nkongho, human rights advocate and founder of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa condemned in strongest terms the treatment matted on a sick detainee describing it as nothing short of “cruelty, inhuman and degrading.”
The disturbing and inhumane treatment in Cameroon’s prisons especially the dreaded Kondengui Central prison has come under review several times. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and even UN agencies have criticized the government of Cameroon for its poor treatment of detainees who are often subjected to torture, limited or no medical attention, sleeping in over-crowded cells leading to the fast spread of illnesses among others. By the time of this report, the government of President Paul Biya or Prison authorities at Kondengui were yet to make any public statement about the death of Thomas Nganyu Tangem and why he had not got medical attention earlier.