On January 12, an appeals court in Cameroon rejected legal efforts to secure the release of Olivier Bibou Nissack and Alain Fogue Tedom, two prominent members of the country’s main opposition party, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun, MRC), as well as twenty other MRC members. They were arrested in September 2020 while exercising their right to freedom of assembly and have been in custody since.
The court’s decision came after a lower court rejected a habeas corpus request filed by the defendants on November 5, 2020.
Nissack and Fogue face politically motivated charges including attempted revolution, rebellion, and unlawful assembly. They were first held in police custody for over a month at the Secrétariat d'Etat à la Défense (SED), in Yaoundé, before being transferred to Yaoundé central prison on November 3 for a six-month pretrial detention period. At SED, they were kept in total isolation, deprived of any reading materials, and frequently denied access to their lawyers.
Nissack and Fogue were arrested as part of a massive government crackdown on peaceful demonstrations organized by the MRC on September 22 across Cameroon, which included the arrest of over 500 people, mainly MRC members and supporters.
Many peaceful protesters were beaten while being arrested and in detention. “The police beat me with truncheons,” a 39-year-old MRC member arrested in Douala told Human Rights Watch. “I spent nine days at the judicial police jail, sleeping on the floor and without access to my lawyers.”
Of the over 500 arrested, at least 136 remain in detention, 20 of whom have been convicted and sentenced to prison by civilian courts, according to the MRC’s lawyers.
"In Cameroon’s criminal justice system, habeas corpus requests appear to have lost their value as individuals who are presumed innocent are systematically deprived of their liberty,” Menkem Sother, a lawyer for Nissack said.
Cameroonian authorities should respect people’s right to demonstrate peacefully, immediately release those wrongfully held, and investigate law enforcement’s conduct in the 2020 crackdown and treatment of detainees.