Heads may roll within the ranks of security forces in Buea following investigations into the circumstances that led to the disappearance of a suspected Anglophone activist who was being held in detention.
A top security source who pleaded for anonymity for fear of reprisals told The SUN that a certain Andang Momfor Thomas jumped detention in the night of February 12, 2019.
“Some of the officers who were on duty have been put behind bars. Investigations have been opened. The high command is embarrassed at what happened and has given firm instructions as to how business will be conducted henceforth,” our source said.
The commander of the gendarmerie brigade where the suspect was detained is said to have been grilled by judicial police officers, given that a prison break is not likely to have taken place. Allegations are rife that the escape must have been an inside plot.
Andang Momfor Thomas was dozens arrested by security forces in the university neighborhood of Molyko on January 4, 2019 during a military raid to fish out suspected separatists believed to have infiltrated the area. We learnt soldiers were in the chase for separatist fighters who have since been fighting to restore a self-proclaimed state of Ambazonia, the territorial space of Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West Regions.
Locals say the security forces were masked and force their way into the hostels and rooms, dragging and beating their occupants. Those arrested were transported in trucks to the gendarmerie legion, eyewitnesses said. It is not known the number of persons who were arrested, but judicial sources say they were being investigated for involvement in the separatist movement that has since turned into a militia.
There is apparently no hiding place for both supporters of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) and separatist of the Ambazionia self-proclaimed state. The regime in power is bent on arresting them and to a greater extend hand them heavy jail sentences for acts of treason, cessation, rebellion against the state, propagation of false news and sponsoring of the Anglophone crisis. Andang Momfor Thomas our source said, have been earmarked for arrest as both regional and national arrest warrant have been issued against him with his photo dispatched to relevant quarters to ensure he is arrested.
Rights groups say the detainees were held incommunicado for long periods, without access to their lawyers and family members.
It would be recalled that the runaway Andang Momfor Thomas is a graduate from the University of Yaounde II and had taken up residence in Buea. He served at a local business complex in Molyko – Andang New and Used Computers and Accessories. Newspapers and magazines among others were sold at the store.
Andang Momfor Thomas is known to have been arrested on 22 September 2017 during mass protests that swept through the North West and South West Regions. Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets in protest against the continuous detention of some of the inhabitants of the regions and sought independence from French Cameroon. The demonstrations came at the time when President Paul Biya was addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Police used teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, forcing protesters to run to safety. After spending three weeks in detention, Andang told The SUN after his release that he saw hell.
“It remains for me a painful experience. I was handcuffed like a common criminal and thrown into one of the military trucks along with other protesters who had taken refuge in my shop. At the Central Police Station, I was interrogated, beaten and locked up in a dark cell along with over 40 others. The police claimed that I have been selling newspapers and other material that promote secessionist tendencies, thereby radicalizing the population,” the young graduate said.
The circumstance under which he was released remains a guarded secret.
The targeting of newspaper vendors and persons in the media sector is not new to Cameroon. Two years ago, police stormed Limbe’s main newsstand at Half Mile and arrested the news vendor and six others. The police then sealed the shop, which is the main newspaper kiosk in Limbe.
The vendor and six people from among the crowd that was reading newspapers that fateful January 21, 2017 were whisked into detention while the others escaped the order to seal the newspaper kiosk reportedly emanated from the SDO for Fako.
The Manager of Tchitos MTN Credit Distribution Service, Fokou Hilaire, later intimated that some of the people at the shop at the time of the arrest were either reading newspapers or had come to buy airtime.
Released overnight, Fokou Hilaire, Tchitos’ main vendor, said they were arrested by the Commissioner of the Special Rapid Intervention Unit of the police (ESIR). He said before his release, he was warned by the police to stop selling any newspaper that publishes things about the Anglophone Problem. He said he was also told to report anyone who comes to the kiosk and talks about the Anglophone Problem.
Tchio Thomas, prominent businessman and staunch member of the CPDM, who owns the shop, was reportedly out of town when the sealing of the kiosk and the arrest of his worker and customers took place.
Meanwhile, according to the police, those arrested have been using the newsstand as a meeting point to hatch plans for Anglophone resistance in Limbe.
They warned that they will not want to see more than three persons at any time around the kiosk.
The sealing of the newspaper kiosk has been seen by members of the public as Government’s desperate attempts to completely frustrate the media that have been keeping the public informed through newspapers about the ongoing Anglophone struggle.
“To close a newsstand means denying the Limbe public of the right to be informed,” observed a concerned Limbe resident.
Several other journalists have been arrested as a result of the crisis. The likes of Atia Tilarious Azohnwi, Amos Fofung, Mofor Ndong, Mimi Mefo among many others have been arrested and later released.
Journalist Thomas Awah Junior, the Northwest correspondent for privately owned Afrik 2 Radio in Yaoundé and publisher of the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine is gradually dying in prison.
A military court on May 25, 2018, sentenced Awah to 11 years in prison, after he was convicted on several charges including terrorism and the spreading of false news, according to media reports and a copy of the judgment seen by CPJ.
The journalist was arrested in Bamenda on January 2, 2017, while interviewing protesters for Afrik 2 Radio, according to CPJ research.
While in prison, Awah’s poor physical health has deteriorated and he was admitted in a hospital in Yaounde in September but was later discharged on October 16 and returned to prison.
“We therefore urge you to use the powers bestowed on you under the constitution of Cameroon to ensure that Awah is unconditionally released on humanitarian grounds. Such a gesture would be viewed both as a compassionate act and as a demonstration of your government’s commitment to complying with international human rights treaties to which Cameroon is a state party,” the CPJ said.
Political tensions over cultural rights and identity have been growing in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions since 2016 when English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers began protesting against their under-representation and cultural marginalization by the Francophone-dominated government. Violent repression by the security forces resulted in arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and the killing of several protesters.
Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon were unified in 1961, but there have been long-term disputes over the extent to which government resources and access to employment have been controlled by the French-speaking majority. Although the Anglophone minority constitutes 20 percent of the population of Cameroon, they are concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions. President Paul Biya has held power in Cameroon since 1982.
The recent crisis in Cameroon deepened after Anglophone separatists organized large-scale protests from 22 September to 1 October 2017 and symbolically proclaimed independence, establishing a state of “Ambazonia.” During the protests security forces responded with disproportionate and deadly force, leading to at least 40 deaths. Since then, violence between security forces and armed separatists has escalated. Government forces have arbitrarily arrested and tortured detainees, and destroyed a number of villages in the Anglophone regions.
Separatist forces have also killed at least 300 military personnel and attacked teachers for not participating in a separatist boycott. At least 40 schools in the Anglophone region have been burned down. Some armed separatist groups have kidnapped state officials and sought to make the Anglophone areas “ungovernable.” According to the UN, more than 500,000 people have fled their homes as a result of the ongoing violence with more than 50,000 others seeking refuge out of Cameroon.
By Jonas Lima