By Kumi Naidoo
Security forces shooting dead unarmed protesters, arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, disappearances, harassment and intimidation are some of the reported human rights abuses that have been continuing for more than four months now in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
“I write to you in hiding and with so much fear that at anytime, anywhere, I can be picked up by the police or military and immediately tried for felony for just sending this email.” These are the desperate words of a Cameroonian activist, contained in an email message sent to me, that point to a deeply concerning and worsening human rights crisis in Cameroon. “The situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon is so scary. A walk in any part of the regions, you will automatically feel like you are in a war zone”.
The war zone effect that this activist, who did not want to be named, is referring to is a result of a brutal, militarised crackdown by the authorities in response to peaceful protests, which has created a climate of repression, fear and intimidation in the English-speaking South West and North West regions. The shooting dead of unarmed protesters, arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, disappearances, harassment and intimidation by security forces are some of the reported human rights abuses that have been continuing for more than four months now. Regular “Ghost Town” boycott protests, also begun months ago, leave city streets deserted, schools closed and businesses shuttered. The activist had to risk traveling to a neighboring Francophone region just to send me her email. An internet blockade that has been in effect since mid-January has cut off internet access and disrupted cellular services for millions of Cameroonians in the English-speaking regions.