Mancho Bibixy Tse, in prison for promoting Anglophone rights

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He’s the man who launched the “Coffin Revolution”: on 21 November 2016, Mancho Bibixy Tse, a local radio journalist and history teacher, stood in an open casket at a crowded roundabout in Bamenda, a city in the English-speaking region of Cameroon. Using a loudspeaker, he denounced the social and economic marginalization of his Anglophone community, at a time when discontent was brewing following a new requirement for all schools and courts to use French. The then 33-year old was already known for documenting human rights violations in North-West Cameroon, as well as for taking care of young people in difficult family situations and being a Manchester United fan. After that day, “BBC”, as he is popularly called, emerged as one of the leaders in the movement for equal rights in this Francophone dominated country.

The response was swift and ruthless. The crackdown in Bamenda started two days later. On 19 January 2017, armed soldiers violently seized Mancho without a warrant at a friend’s house, after shooting in the air and forcing their way in. They beat up the journalist and hooded him. In May, the Yaoundé Military Court sentenced him to 15 years in prison for “terrorism”, “secession”, “rebellion”, “inciting civil war”, and “spreading false information through social media” - all of these charges originating from the coffin stunt. To those who know him, he was punished for passionately speaking out for equality and non-discrimination in a society that strictly controls freedom of expression.

Two years later, after organizing, with four other detained human rights defenders, a protest against the abuse they were enduring, Mancho was temporarily taken to a military camp where he was again tortured. His sentence was extended for another three years.

In August 2019, a UN body declared his detention arbitrary and called for his release.

Mancho remains detained at the Kondengui central maximum-security prison in Yaoundé, where he has limited contact with his family - a wife, two children and another eight he was taking care of - in Bamenda. He shares a small cell with 15 inmates and has no proper access to hygiene facilities. His health has deteriorated. According to various reports, at least one prisoner has recently tested positive for the coronavirus at Kondengui.

Intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders have escalated in recent years in Cameroon, particularly since the beginning of the socio-political crisis in the Anglophone regions at the end of 2016, which has led to serious human rights violations, including excessive use of force and arbitrary detention by security forces to repress peaceful demonstrations. The OMCT has also reported several cases of judicial harassment against defenders denouncing the government’s corruption and opposing land grabbing in the country.

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