Before instituting draconian internet laws, look at and learn from Cameroon

A protest in Cameroon.Picture: Cameroon Intelligence Report
Before the state clamps down on internet services, regulates social media and starts arresting journalists, it would do well to have a look northwest, to Cameroon.

It has been more than 50 days that the south and western provinces of Cameroon have no internet.

The government suspended services to English-speaking Cameroonians on January 17, after a series of protests that resulted in violence and the arrest of community leaders.

These regions make up to 6.9 million people of the country.

In October last year English-speaking lawyers and teachers from the south and west of the country started protesting about a Francophile government that, they claimed, was marginalising them.

Cameroon international political analyst Millan Atam told City Press that some of the protesters had been brutally abused and videos and pictures showing this were circulating on social media.

It is not clear how many had been arrested.

“We do not have the exact figure. More arrests have occurred during the period of the internet blackout than before. When there was still internet, we counted more than 200 arrested citizens,” Atam said.

Member of the Southern Cameroon South African forum, Edward Ndi, added that prominent activists had been arrested.

The Cameroon government had also allegedly identified Cameroon activists around the world including those in Germany, the United States, United Kingdom and South Africa, who would be arrested as soon as they set foot on home soil.

“We are informed that people are arrested even for crossing to the French speaking part of the country to access the internet,” Atam said.

The Cameroon High Commission in South Africa has not responded to the emails sent to them since last week.

When City Press tried to contact telephonically we were told to send emails again to A. Kouambo Jomague, high commissioner, but nothing came out of it.

“Instead of responding to the grievances of the lawyers and teachers, the regime responded in its usual manner by sending police and the military who beat up lawyers and seized their wigs and gowns,” Atam said.

This was exacerbated by the violent quelling of a strike by students of the University of Buea, the main Anglo-Saxon university in the country.

Gendarmes (French-trained paramilitary forces) moved into the campus where the students were staging a peaceful protest and brutalised them, raping students as young as 16 and arresting scores of young men.

A radio station was taken off air and numerous journalists have been arrested.

One Cameroonian who was based in South Africa went home for his wedding in December but was arrested because he was also documenting the crisis as a journalist.

“He was arrested in the course of this [crisis] and taken to Yaounde where he was held in the underground prison. We have been informed that he was so ill, with swollen feet that he has been hospitalised,” member of Southern Cameroon SA Forum, Awa L. Tambu, said.

“We have been appealing to the media world to get involved as many journalists and pressmen like him have been arrested and we do not know if they are still alive or dead,” Tambu said.

Activist say that more atrocities have occurred during the time of the blackout than before.

Next year will see the country’s 84-year-old president, the second-oldest in Africa behind Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (whose country has also had its internet services interfered with by the government) is expected to run for a seventh term.

Paul Biya doesn’t expect much of a challenge in his campaign, despite the growing unrest in Cameroon, and there is no indication that he would be willing to step down. Which kind of brings to mind another president, who’s been clinging on to power despite various challenges from the opposition, and even from within his own party.

We can just hope that sanity prevails, and that scenes from Cameroon are not echoed in our own country.

Source :City press

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