By Andrew Nsoseka
The Buea Military Tribunal, on September 7, slammed four death penalties on accused persons who were standing trial for the killing of school children at Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, in Kumba, on October 24, 2020.
The four suspects who were standing trial for the case that attracted the attention of people within and out of Cameroon are the first persons to be slammed a death sentence in Cameroon, 24 years after such a sentence was given out and execution carried out in 1997.
The death sentence by shooting was pronounced against the four accused persons on charges of acts of terrorism, hostility against the fatherland, secession, insurrection, murder and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
After the last death sentence that was carried out in 1997, it appeared the country went mellow on issuing such sentences. However, the Criminal Procedure Code, adopted in 2016, again upheld the death penalty, especially for terrorism-related offences.
The sentencing of the four accused persons took many by surprise, especially as the case and trial were never made public. Journalists operating in the Southwest and Buea in Cameroon were taken by surprise when they learnt of the ruling on the case, whose existence many only heard for the first time.
In most countries such cases of public interest are brought to court, proceedings are made public, in order to build the people’s trust in the judiciary system. In such cases, the proceedings are opened to the media who relay to the public, so that all interested persons can see in all transparency how justice is been done.
A legal mind familiar with the case described it as a procedure full of lapses considering the nature of the sentence handed to the accused, and the manner in which the trial was conducted. “The whole thing seemed so political, and the whole process was filled with overzealousness. First, Cameroon is a signatory to many international instruments that have outlawed the death penalty, and when you sign such international instruments, they automatically become superior to your domestic laws. So I am surprised that a judge who should know better, will go ahead to hand such a sentence.” Our source said.
He also said lawyers of the condemned were given a few days (10 days) to appeal the judgement. He said if the lawyers are serious, they should by now, already filed an appeal. He said from experience, a similar case (out of Cameroon) where lawyers waited for the last day ended with the defendant being executed because the lawyers delayed.
The four defendants sentenced to death by firing squad include Gilda Yemeli Longtsi, Patrick Konte, Emmanuel Angu, and Kelvin Elangwe Eyabe. According to the ruling of the Buea military court, they were found guilty of participating in the school attack that led to the killing of seven schoolchildren in what became known as the Kumba School Massacre.
In a similar case, four Cameroonian soldiers who stood trial for the killing of two women and two children in the Far North Region, in a video that went viral on social media were given ten years each after they were found guilty of the murder.
Another soldier received two years for violating orders while two others were not found guilty on all counts and were released.