Cameroon: Amnesty International Deplores Continuous Detention Of September 20 Protesters
By Sonita Ngunyi Nwohtazie
When 37-year-old single mother Dorgelesse Nguessan left her home to participate in the September 2020 protest in Douala, she didn’t know what will befall her while she took part. The consequences of her participation did not dawn on her that she would be spending more than two years in jail.
In September 2020, over 500 people were arrested for participating in protests organized by the opposition party ‘Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon’ (MRC). The party of Maurice Kamto had contested the legitimacy of the presidential election that gave incumbent President Biya a landslide victory. MRC officials to this day still see themselves as having won that election.
Dorgelesse Nguessan spent a week in detention in an overcrowded cell at a police station, according to Amnesty International and was then transferred to the central prison in Douala. She was charged with “insurrection” and “public demonstrations”, among other charges, before being sentenced to five years in prison by a military court on 7 December 2021.
“As Dorgelesse was convicted simply for exercising her right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International has denounced the arbitrary nature of her detention, and also called for her immediate and unconditional release in a campaign in January 2022. Her situation also featured among 10 cases profiled in this year’s Write For Rights campaign,” Amnesty International wrote.
The request for the release of 23 protesters from detention, all of whom were convicted for participating in a September 2020 protest in Douala has, however, been rejected by the High Court of Wouri, Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said.
“We are deeply disappointed that the authorities have failed to recognize the arbitrary nature of the ongoing detention of these protestors. Arresting and imprisoning people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly is an arbitrary act and fails to meet Cameroon’s obligations under international human rights law.”
Lawyers representing the 23 people sentenced submitted a ‘habeas corpus’ request for their immediate release on 8 December 2022. On 25 January, the judge rejected the request for immediate release. However, an appeal hearing will take place on 16 March 2023 to rule on Dorgelesse Nguessan’s lawyer’s request challenging the first instance verdict convicting their client, a different process from this habeas corpus application.
“These 23 protestors have not committed a single crime and should be immediately and unconditionally released. All others detained in the country for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly must also be freed,” Samira Daoud added.