Cameroon: Outcry for the release of Activist Abdul Karim Ali

This is the third time that the Director of the Peace Research Centre is being arrested. He was picked up in January and September 2019 but was later released

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

Abdul Karim Ali speaking at a conference in Toronto, Canada, March 2020. Picture by HRW

Muslim scholar, activist and IT expert Abdul Karim Ali was arrested and whisked away by security forces according to reports on August 11 in the Ntamulung neighbourhood in Bamenda, North-West region. He was not allowed to see family members until August 13 when, following sustained pressure from his lawyers, authorities allowed his wife to visit.

More than ten days since he was arrested, International Rights group Human Rights Watch is calling for the release of the activist who reports say has been charged with “apology of terrorism.” This is the third time the Director of the Peace Research Centre is being arrested. He was picked up in January and September 2019 but later released.

In September 2019, Abdul Karim was arrested on his way back from Europe after attending a meeting in which some separatists participated. He was locked up at the State Defense Secretariat, SED in Yaounde, and charged with accessory to terrorism, secession, and apology to terrorism, Cameroonnewsagency reported.

Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, Director of The Kenya School of Law like Human Rights Watch has called on the Cameroonian authorities to release Karim. He said on his Twitter page: “I have learnt with profound shock that my Brother Abdul Karim Ali has been arrested in Bamenda by the Authorities in Cameroon after he visited Kenya. We urge the Cameroon Government to release Brother Ali from custody.”

“In September 2019, prominent Cameroonian Anglophone peace activist Abdul Karim Ali was arrested. He was held without access to a lawyer for five days before authorities finally released him weeks later. But history has a sad way of repeating itself in Cameroon, where Ali has once again been detained,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, Senior Central Africa Researcher for Human Rights Watch said.

Ali’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch they were not permitted to view his file and that he was questioned in their absence, in violation of Cameroonian law. While there are no official charges against Ali, he was told he is accused of “apology of terrorism” for possessing a video on his phone showing alleged human rights abuses committed by a Cameroonian soldier against civilians in the English-speaking region, Human Rights stated.

“Jailing Ali instead of working with him is a missed opportunity for the government, said Barrister Awah Joseph Fru, one of Ali’s lawyers. “Arresting a peace advocate stifles an environment for genuine dialogue,” he told Human Rights Watch.

Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of detainees are rife in Cameroon. Many people perceived as opposing the government are held on bogus charges related to national security or terrorism. Following his arrest in 2019, Ali was taken to the State Defense Secretariat (Secrétariat d’État à la défense, SED), a notorious detention facility in the capital, Yaoundé, where Human Rights Watch has documented widespread use of torture. Ali was held incommunicado until his whereabouts were finally made public in September 2019 when he appeared before the Yaoundé Military Court and was charged with acts of terrorism, financing terrorism, and secession. He was released on November 1, 2019.

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