Student rushed to hospital after collapsing while in detention
By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE
In Anglophone Regions of Cameroon, when some law enforcement officers see a young person on the streets, they see a potential source for ‘njangi money’, a roofing sheet for their building project, children’s books, bottles of beer, a prostitute or a hook-up girl’s fee, and much more.
For almost no reason, youths easily find themselves in cells and are required to pay bail to be freed, even when no crime has been committed, and they have not been accused of any either or told what they are been bailed for.
This has been normalised all over the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon that have been bedevilled by an armed conflict since 2017, when some disgruntled locals decided to pick up arms against the state, hoping to create their own breakaway country called Ambazonia, where, to them, they will have freedoms and will no longer receive second class citizens’ treatment from the government of Cameroon.
Buea, like some towns and communities in Anglophone Regions of Cameroon, has recently been subjected to several mass arrests where young people and young adults are rounded up in large numbers and transported to various detention centres.
On the field when confronted, law enforcement officers who care to speak, say they are out looking for criminals. But in practice, they capture just anyone, with or without an identity card. While at the detention centres, the arrested are registered and hardly ever questioned for the alleged crime which is hardly ever mentioned.
When taken to the station, a majority of those arrested are simply told to bail themselves to regain their freedom. Those who pay are immediately freed, while those who can’t afford to pay the supposed bail remain in detention, and are not charged with any crime. Rather, they are threatened to either pay bail or risk being transferred to detention centres where they are likely to stand trial in a military tribunal for just any crime related to terrorism. Knowing the risks, and the fact that the courts hardly free anyone charged with such crimes, many are forced to pay, to be freed, instead of risking it with the hope of the courts judging and finding them not guilty of the yet-to-be-mentioned crime.
During the last two mass arrests carried out in Buea – at the Mayor Street neighbourhood on August 28, and Dirty South – two students’ residential areas on August 25, 2023, several youths, mostly students, were trucked to police stations and gendarmerie brigades in Buea. Many paid to secure their freedom, and say they were never questioned for any purported crime. Others received ill treatment and were tormented while in detention.
A popular Buea comedian, who goes by the name Lihno, whose comedy is centralised on law enforcement officers’ abuses of everyday citizens, was among the recent victims. In a social media video, he narrated that they were whisked from their home when a ‘kale-kale’ operation was carried in their neighbourhood.
“They woke us up from bed, they said it was kale-kale, we showed our ID Cards, but they still said we should go to the station. We reached there, and they said we did not comb our hair. They woke us up from the bed, and still complained that we did not comb our hair. That is how they took us to Central (Buea Central Police Station). They said they must shave us. That anyone must be shaved before they are locked up in a cell. They finally shaved us (with a crude scissors)”, he narrates. Apparently, the officers might have discovered that the man was a popular comedian with thousands of followers and that his arrest might attract a lot of attention and, as such, crumble their operation. Unlike others, he was freed.
The Post has, so far, talked to several victims and parents who all attest that they were forced to pay varying sums to secure the release of their children, friends or themselves. They say, though without any charge or accusation against them, the officers insist on collecting money before freeing them.
One of those who survived a mass arrest at the Dirty South neighbourhood in Buea told The Post that she only survived because she boldly challenged the office on whether she should mount a car to their station without any reason given.
“One of the officers told the colleague that ‘this one must be either a lawyer or a journalist’, they spoke in French, and probably thought I did not understand the language, so they left me alone and went on arresting others”, she told The Post.
In Buea, The Post has continually tried to get an official explanation or statement from regional authorities concerning arbitrary arrests, detentions and payment to regain freedom. We have, most of the time, been asked to get permission from Yaounde to talk to those in command in the Region, or simply told that such a statement cannot be given, and will never be gotten at the level of Buea.
It is a similar thing in Oku Subdivision, in the Northwest Region, where locals have repeatedly been sending out distress calls against the Brigade Commander, Joh Bolivar Idjandja. Locals, who can’t meet up with the exorbitant amount of money demanded from them say the commander is acting in the same manner as gangs who kidnap and demand ransom.
Locals say on August 24, 2023, the commander and his men raided 12 villages in Oku, arresting over 600 young people. Though not charged with any crime, locals who have loved ones detained say the commander demands a minimum of FCFA 500,000 to free an individual. Locals who cannot afford the demanded sum say their loved ones face the possibility of being transferred to the regional capital, Bamenda, where they are likely to be detained and charged with terrorism-related crimes.
A Normalised Ill
Ever since the Anglophone Crisis started in 2016, many people living in Buea and its environs have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, some of which have proven to be of economic, rather than security motives. As such, rampant raids are made in some neighbourhoods, and people, especially the young, and men, are arrested sometimes with no excuse given and are forced to pay bribes, to be liberated.
In some circumstances, homes are searched by officers, who present no warrant, and when nothing incriminating is found, flimsy excuses like receipts of household items are brought up, and someone is arrested or forced to bribe in order that they are not arrested. This has made many to live in constant fear.
When finally detained as threatened, such victims are hardly ever charged to court, as there is little or no evidence to charge them with terrorism-related offences. As such, most spend lengthy times in prison without ever going to court.
Such actions from law enforcement officers violate several human rights of citizens who are victims. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Enshrines on everyone, “the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. The Declaration in its Article 9, also decrees that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. This is not respected by law enforcement officers in the two Regions who have made it a habit to arrest citizens arbitrarily.
On the issue of respect for privacy, officers seem not to be educated, or care about citizen’s right to privacy. In some circumstances, phones are arbitrarily searched without warrants and when a picture of the crisis is seen, or other materials that suggest that the concerned could be living above their expected means, they are accused of either being a separatist sympathiser or scammer and are arrested.
This goes against Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. This has made life tough for many who are constantly faced with such abuses.