By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE
Denizens of Buea and surrounding communities currently going through the bane of the Anglophone Crisis are now caught in another scheme where officers carry out mass arrests generally referred to as ‘Kale Kale’, whose victims are subjected to extortion, where they have to bribe the officers in order to be released.
Whether accused of a crime or not, mass arrest victims are treated the same way under the guise of fishing out Separatist fighters. Many locals, especially those who cannot afford the bribe, or who refuse to bribe their way out, end up behind bars in police and gendarmerie stations. Article 9, of the Universal declaration of Human Rights, which Cameroon is signatory to, frowns the practice of arbitrary arrests, as it states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
Claims that the rampant mass arrests are meant to sort out and capture separatist fighters, are not believed or accepted by critics, on grounds that those who offer money at the time of arrest are released, and mainly those who refuse or can’t afford to bribe are incarcerated and charged.
These mass arrests violate article nine of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
Raids in neighbourhoods by security and defence forces often target youths and men. On the surface, the officers usually demand to see the National Identity Cards, NIC, of the concerned. In cases where the individual is not in possession of his or her NIC, they are arrested. In some cases, those who present them are allowed to go, and in other circumstances, they are further searched for weapons, or their phones checked for messages relating to the Anglophone Crisis.
Many locals have been arrested for pictures found in their phones relating to the Anglophone Crisis. Some of such pictures may have just been automatically downloaded into the phone from WhatsApp groups. Phone messages relating to the crisis may have just been sent to a group chat, or forwarded by the said individual on an incident that might have happened.
In Muea, a popular business locality in Buea, regional capital of the Southwest Region, denizens have continually cried out against rampant mass arrests, which, they say, often end up with them being forced to pay huge sums as bribes to officers in order to be released. The alternative for many will be to be taken to detention centres where they are locked up to languish in pain, with a high possibility of ending up in pre-trial detention, where they will be charged with terrorism-related offences.
The now ‘normal’ practice contravenes Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “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.”
Speaking to The Post, a Muea resident, who we will simply refer to as Derick, for his safety, decried the ordeals they have been subjected to.
“Muea has been calm for some time now, but the recent activities of the security and defence forces is causing more fear in the people,” he said.
On Thursday, September 9, a contingent of police and gendarme officers swooped on Muea arresting over 500 people, some of who were detained. Those with bribe, regained their freedom, and others were ferried to various police and gendarme detention facilities in Buea.
“After Thursday’s mass arrest, the police, on Monday, September 14, again arrested dozens of youths in the same locality, most of who bailed themselves with FCFA 10,000 each,” Derrick said.
Security sources and those familiar with the routine, say little bribes are accepted at the point of arrest, because, it only ends up between a few officers.
“When you are taken to the station, you have to pay more, because, many people are involved, and the money has to go round. So, it is better to offer bribe at the time of arrest, because, things are usually complicated when they reach the station and the big men (commanding officers) are involved. They know it is bad, but it is routine now. So, no one cares,” a security source told The Post.
A victim of the arrests in Muea, who preferred not to be named, for fear of been targeted, narrated to The Post how, after spending two days at the Buea Central Police Station, he only regained his freedom, after paying FCFA 37,000.
On what led to his arrest, he said: “They called for me when they saw me, and asked for my identity card. They then told me to enter their truck and we were taken to GMI. From there, we were taken to the Central Police Station. The cells were full and some of us were kept in the cell for females. They then passed our hands through a scanning machine to see if we have ever held guns,” he recounted. Article 9, (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsstates that, “Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” In mass arrests cases, the victims are hardly ever told why they are under arrest.
He tearfully narrated how, although his hands signalled green, meaning he has not held a gun, he was locked up until Saturday afternoon, September 11, when he paid FCFA 37,000 to regain his freedom.
In an interview with The Post, Barrister Lohtabu Tingom, Military Court Defence Counsel regretted that arrests in Buea, like many other places, no longer follow procedure, as it has become a money-making adventure. He stated that such mass and rampant arrests are only permitted when a crime has been committed and the suspects still on ground, then, law enforcement officers can arrest massively to investigate and uncover the suspects.
On the reality with mass arrests in Buea, the lawyer stated: “The perpetrators are instead set free, while innocent people are held. Most of those held back are those with a poor background, and cannot pay to be released,” he stated, adding that perpetrators always pay their way out.
He said the money often extorted from accused persons as bail, is not backed by the law, because bail, going by the laws in place, is free. The Barrister, who has dedicated a lot of time defending victims of mass arrests, regretted that those who end up in prison or behind bars are those who cannot afford to buy their way out. He, however, rejoiced that some of the corrupt judges at the Buea Military Tribunal are already gradually being transferred out of the town.