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Cameroon
20.04.18
Urgent Interventions

Ongoing judicial harassment and death threats targeting OFFGO members

Newinformation

CMR 001/ 0317 / OBS 033.2

Death threats /

Judicial harassment

Cameroon

April 20, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention inthe following situation in Cameroon.

New information:

TheObservatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicialharassment and death threats targeting several members of the Organic Farmingfor Gorillas (OFFGO), a group of farmers founded in September 2015 to promoteorganic farming, environmental protection, opposing land grabbing and workingfor the protection of the cross-river gorilla in Mbengwi, in the North-West Regionof Cameroon.

According to theinformation received, on April 13, 2018, a man who allegedly worked with billionaire businessman Mr. Baba Ahmadou Danpullo[1],called and threatened to kill OFFGO’s lawyer Mr. Elvis Brown and his familyif they did not “drop the file”,referring to OFFGO’s complaints before the National Commission on Human Rightsand Freedoms (NCHRF). The caller told details of the presence of Mr. Brown andhis family in Bamenda, including related to their home and the children’s school.He also threatened to kill Mr. Jan Cappelle, founder of OFFGO.

A complaint was filed beforethe Police National Security Department in Mbengwi, who latter summoned thecaller to present himself by April 18, 2018. The caller, who received thesummons on April 16, 2018, did not present himself.

On April 18, 2018, the sameperson called Mr. Elvis Brown again and told him to “prepare very well”. On April 19, 2018, Mr. Elvis Brown receivedanother text message reading “watch andsee how I make your team suffer”, “youshould be sorry for your friends back here. I am merciless”, “I am heartless I have no feelings” and “I will teach your team a bitter lesson. Youwill all suffer for destabilising Cameroon”.

These threats come at a timewhen the NCHRF is supposed to publish a report following investigations carriedout into the abuses and judicial harassment targeting OFFGO members. Thepublication of the report was already delayed several times, despite theconduct of two field visits to Tudig and Mbengwi in April 2017, and to Mbengwiand Bamenda in February 2018 (see background information).

The Observatory urges theCameroonian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical andpsychological integrity of OFFGO members, and to conduct an immediate,thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into the death threatsdirected at them, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them beforean independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

The Observatory furtherrecalls that two other OFFGO members, Messrs. Matthias Awazi and HumfredManjo, are still facing trumped-up charges and face up to three years in prison(see background information). Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon theauthorities of Cameroon to put an end to all acts of harassment -including at judicial level - against the and all OFFGO members.

Finally, the Observatory isconcerned by the delays in the publication of the report and recommendations bythe NCHRF, entailing further harassment of OFFGO members and impunity for thoseresponsible.

Background information:

The village of Tudig, inMbengwi, where OFFGO has its headquarters, as well as its members, have been since2016 the target of intimidation and harassment from the Divisional Officer ofMbengwi Sub-division and from Mr. Baba Danpullo, who has been involved inseveral cases of land grabbing in the country[2].

In September 2015, OFFGO submitted a reportto the Governor of the North-West region on the conflict opposing farmers andcattle ranchers. In October 2015, the Senior Divisional Officer of the MomoDivision opened an investigation into the irregularities revealed in the reportwith respect to land attribution.

On January 21, 2016, the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Divisiondeclared that he had requested an investigation on Mr. Jan Cappelle and onallegations of “support to the communities in Tudig”, which would allegedlyencourage communities to take their land back. On February 27, 2016, Mr.Cappelle was interrogated by the Mbengwi gendarmerie. As there was no evidenceagainst him, he was not arrested.

In March 2016, the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Division asked againfor an investigation to be carried out into Mr. Cappelle’s activities, but thistime to the Mbengwi police. This investigation led to a report, stating that nothreat to security could be reported with respect to Mr. Cappelle’s activities.

On May 5, 2016,Mr. Jan Cappelle was interrogated by the gendarmerie and another interrogationwas scheduled on May 11. A day before, on May 10, 2016, Mr. Cappelle wasarrested in Bamenda by the police and transferred to Yaoundé where he wasplaced in detention and given no access to his lawyer until May 12, 2016. OnMay 13, 2016, Mr. Cappelle was expelled from Cameroon to Belgium without anylegal justification[3]. An investigation into theexpulsion was launched in July 2016 by the national gendarmerie of the NorthWest Region, concluding that the accusations were not justified. No furtheraction was taken following the issuance of the gendarmerie report, which wassent to the Presidency in August 2016.

Furthermore,in May 2016, the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Division informedverbally the villagers that he issued an injunction for the destruction of theorganic community farm developed by OFFGO in Tudig. This resulted in a peacefulprotest by hundreds of OFFGO members and villagers, opposing the destructionorder, which led to the arrest of Messrs. Matthias Awazi and Humfred Manjo on July 16,2016 on charges of violating “SubPrefectural Decision No 053/SPD/BALPA/2015 placing an injunction order on agrazer area under dispute in Tudig Village” and “illegal retention” of twogoats under Section 322(3) of the Penal Code. They were transferred to theMbengwi Tribunal of First Instance and provisionally released on the same day.

On February 22, 2017, thehearing in the case against OFFGO board members Matthias Awazi and HumfredManjo, scheduled before the Mbengwi Court of First Instance, was postponed dueto the ongoing lawyers’ strike in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. As ofpublication of this Appeal, not further hearing date had been scheduled. Moreover,since May 29, 2017, the Mbengwi Court of First Instance has repeatedlyrequested both the defendants and the plaintiff to respectively pay 150,000FCFA (approx. 229 euros) and 100,000 FCFA (approx. 153 euros) in order to visitthe community farm (locus fee)although this practice is illegal under Cameroonian law[4].

In addition, the village ofTudig, has been the target of several security incidents since mid-2016.Specifically, destructions and damages to the farmers’ huts, destruction ofproperty, theft of crops as well as theft and killings of farm animals by armedcivilians were reported respectively in September 2016, November 2016 andFebruary 2017.

Besides, on February 2,2017, the Mbengwi Prosecutor (State Counsel[5]) briefly detained thevillage Regent Mr. Vincent Awazi for unknown reasons tolater free him on a 500,000 FCFA (approx. 762 Euros) bail. No charges werebrought against him - nor have been to date - as the State Counsel failed totransfer Mr. Awazi's file to court. Yet, Mr. Awazi got informed that the StateCounsel is still investigating potential charges against him. On May 17, 2017,he was summoned before the Mbengwi Court of First Instance, although to date hehas not been notified of any charge pending against him and no further hearingdate has been scheduled.

On March 23, 2017, Mr.Vincent Awazi filed a complaint denouncing the illegal arrest, detention andexpulsion of Mr. Jan Cappelle,as well as the subsequentharassment of several OFFGO members. As a result, the NCHRF carried out aninvestigation into the abuses and judicial harassment targeting OFFGO members.

Actionsrequested:

Pleasewrite to the authorities of Cameroon and ask them to:

i. Guaranteein all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of OFFGO members, and all human rights defenders in Cameroon;

ii. Put anend to all acts of harassment - including at judicial level - against OFFGOmembers and all human rights defenders in Cameroon;

iii. Ensurein all circumstances that OFFCO and its members as well as all human rightsdefenders in Cameroon are able to carry out their legitimate activities withoutany hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Conformin any circumstances with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration onHuman Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the UN General Assembly,in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2;

v. Ensure inall circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms inaccordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Cameroon.

Addresses:

· His Excellency Mr. Paul Biya,President of the Republic of Cameroon, Fax +237 22 22 08 70

· H.E. Mr. Philémon Yang, PrimeMinister and Chief Head of Government of Cameroon. Fax: +237 22 23 57 65.Email: spm@spm.gov.cm

· Mr. Laurent Esso, Minister ofJustice of Cameroon, Fax: + 237 22 23 00 05

· Mr. Atanga Nji , Minister ofTerritorial Administration of Cameroon, Fax: + 237 22 22 37 35

· Dr. Chemuta Divine Banda,Chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Fax: +237 2222 60 82, E-mail: cndhl@iccnet.cm / cdbanda26@yahoo.fr

· Ms. Enonchong Annet,Protection Officer of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms,Email: annet_mbeng@yahoo.com

· H.E. Mr. Anatole Fabien MarieNkou, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon to the UnitedNations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 736 21 65, Email:mission.cameroun@bluewin.ch

· H.E. Mr. Daniel Evina Abe’e,Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 322 344 57 35; Email: ambassade.cameroun@skynet.be; embassy@cameroon.be

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Cameroon inyour respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, April 20, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of thisappeal in your reply.

TheObservatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rightsdefenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. FIDH and OMCTare both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, theEuropean Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by internationalcivil society.

[1] Mr. Baba Ahmadou Danpullo is a cattle rancher, tea plantation owner anda member of the Central Committee of the ruling Cameroon People’s DemocraticMovement (CPDM) party.

[2]Formore information see for instance Observatory Urgent Appeal CMR 001 / 0716 / OBS 056.2, published onJanuary 13, 2017.

[3] However, Mr. Danpullo’s direct involvement into Mr. Jan Cappelle’sexpulsion has been verbally reported to OFFGO members by the NationalGendarmerie of Momo as well as by the National Gendarmerie of the North Westregion, and sources at the Presidency. In addition, a leaked report from theNational Gendarmerie of the North West region accuses Mr. Jan Cappelle ofdefamation and attempted murder against Mr. Danpullo. Another document in thefile alleged that Mr. Jan Cappelle was in possession of GPS, trackers and bombsas so-called “instruments” to kill Mr. Danpullo.

[4] Sub-ChapterII of the Cameroonian Code of Criminal Procedure which provides for visit tothe locus in quo, searches and seizures does not include any locus fee thatshould be paid by the parties.

[5] UnderCameroonian law, the State Counsel is the office of the Prosecutors,constituting the legal department/prosecution department.

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