Press Release — HRF to Cameroon: Release Activist Nasako Besingi; End Crackdown on Protesters
NEW YORK (October 24, 2017) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns Cameroon’s authoritarian regime for arbitrarily arresting Cameroonian activist Nasako Besingi and for its attempts to stifle public discourse through protest suppression and internet shutdowns. Besingi was arrested on September 25 and later charged by a military court with secession and insurrection for his vocal support of civil rights protests in the country’s anglophone regions. He remains in detention today at Buea Central Prison pending preliminary investigation, which can last up to 18 months under Cameroonian law.
“Cameroon’s dictator Paul Biya has intensified his crackdown on activists, journalists, and critics who work to expose the crimes of his kleptocratic regime,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Biya believes that if he imprisons civil society leaders like Mr. Besingi this will bring about the silence of Biya’s critics and that no one will notice his regime’s crimes. He is wrong. The world is watching. Biya must end the violence against protesters and activists and release Mr. Besingi and other political prisoners.”
Besingi’s arrest is a part of the Cameroonian regime’s recent campaign to stomp out dissent from anglophone protesters. The conflict between the country’s French-speaking and English-speaking populations dates back to its independence, but tensions have risen in recent months. In October 2016, members of the anglophone population, including lawyers, teachers, and students, went on strike to protest against the discrimination that they have endured from the predominantly francophone government. In recent months, the Cameroonian government has moved to silence protesters and other critics using anti-terrorism legislation and internet censorship.
Nasako Besingi rose to prominence because of his involvement in environmental protests in early 2016.However, his lawyer told HRF that his recent arrest was a response to Besingi’s loud support of the anglophone protesters and condemnation of the regime’s violent persecution of its political opponents. Besingi has long criticized Biya for violating Cameroonians’ free speech and their right to protest.
Paul Biya has been in power since 1982, making him one of the longest-serving rulers in Africa. He has gone to great lengths to maintain his grip on power. In 2008, he pushed through a constitutional amendment that abolished presidential term limits, and now he is actively persecuting dissidents and shutting down avenues for political discourse.
On October 5, HRF joined a coalition of human rights organizations to send a letter urging Cameroon’s government to restore internet full access in all regions of the country. Earlier this year, from January to April 2017, the government ordered an internet shutdown in the anglophone regions that was deemed to be the longest shutdown by a country in Africa. The government reinstated this ban on October 1 in response to protests, depriving millions of citizens of their right to access and impart information online.
“Internet shutdowns are a powerful tool used by dictatorships throughout the world to exert control over the flow of information,” said Celine Assaf Boustani, an international legal associate at HRF. “By depriving Cameroonians of their right to access and share information on the internet, Biya’s authoritarian regime is violating their right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a signatory to the ICCPR, Cameroon violates its international obligations every time it shuts down the internet.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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Urge the Cameroonian regime to release Nasako Besingi.
Condemn the Biya regime’s current crackdown and internet shutdown in Cameroon’s anglophone regions.
Paul Biya, President of Cameroon
Tommo Monthe, Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon to the United Nations
Phone: (212) 794-2295
Address: 22 East 73rd Street New York NY 10021
Étoundi Essomba, Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon to the United States
Address: 3400 International Drive, NW Washington, DC 20008