Youths in Buea, and sister towns like Bamenda, Limbe, Kumba and others in Anglophone regions of Cameroon are going through heightened and unlawful harassment from soldiers, police officers and gendarmes stationed in the crisis regions. The common practice is that officers use brute force and intimidation to search through the phones of phones of young people, hoping to find something incriminating.
In most cases, officers accuse youths dressed in flashy manner and using expensive phone brands like Apple and Samsung, of being internet fraudsters. Such persons after being searched are often ordered to mount police pickup vans of officers. In the vans, they are often presented with two options, either to bribe their way out or face detention on internet fraud or terrorism related charges. Most people, faced with such a situation and due to fear, are forced to empty their pockets to bribe their way out. Some are forced to bribe their way out, even when nothing is found in their phones to incriminate them.
The other category are the ordinary looking youths and students who are often rounded up in quarters and their phones also illegally searched. Here officers often look for pictures or photos that are about the crisis. Having a photo of an incident that happened in relation to the Anglophone crisis is considered criminal by the officers. Such persons are accused of being separatists or their agents. The officers often proceed to extort money from the victims, after threatening to lock them up or send them to Yaounde to answer terrorism related charges.
In Buea of recent, the extortion and harassment became so rampant that Human Rights defender, Christopher Tambe Tiku alongside some concerned persons are carrying out campaigns aimed at curtailing the rampant right abuses. Tambe Tiku and crew have taken to streets on car rooftops, calling on everyone to refrain from giving their phones to officers who request to go through them. However, this has not stopped officers from continuing with the unlawful practice.
Knowing that they can intimidate almost anyone with a gun and in a tight corner where many are not looking, the officers are devising new strategies to continue with the malpractice. Some even move around in taxis, park in neighbourhoods, from where they can harass locals with few eyes witnessing their acts. As such, they still force to go through citizens’ phones and extort them. Speaking about the issue, Tambe Tiku said “We are telling them (youths) resist the arrest. When they say you should climb because you refuse to open your phone, don’t”. He said he has been called and he has rescued many situations.
He urged the youths to present their IDs when asked, but never to open their phones for anyone. “If they ask you to present your ID, present it, if they ask you to open your phone, refuse. Tell them that that they don’t have any right to do that, and if you are beaten or you are locked up, fine, there is a procedure, serve whatever term they give you, and the day you are released, even if you paid to gain your liberty which you are not supposed to, we will recover that money. We have done that”. He said.
The action of the security officers gravely contravene Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states in its first paragraph that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation”.
Paragraph two furthers that “Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. Instead of providing such protection, officers in the war affected regions are taking advantage of the citizens to violate their rights fleece them.
Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 12 states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.
Article 19 gives people the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. However officers abuse his by victimising people for just receiving information.
A victim of one of such incidents, is Ngale (not his real name) a phone dealer, who also uses an IPhone. He Told The Post that around mid-2022, he was stopped on the busy streets of Malingo in Buea, and sked to open his phone. Feeling powerless, he inserted the password and handed it over to the officers. “They went through it and did not see anything, but said I was a scammer. I told them I am a businessman, but they ordered me to climb into their car. I did, and they took me to the Molyko Police station, where I paid FCFA 750000 before I was freed,” he narrated.
Another victim who narrated his story too but preferred not to be named at all, is a pork seller in Buea. He said while chatting with a group of young men who came to buy from his joint, a Gendarmerie van pulled over, asked for their IDs and phones and then ordered everyone to get into their car. “They took us the Brigade and locked us up. Others paid and were released. I did not have money so they held me for three days. I even recognised some of the gendarmes who were my customers. I pleaded with them, but they said they did not know me. Finally, I was released, after agreeing to pay FCFA 50000, which I did not have, so I borrowed from a friend”. To know whether something is been done about the issue, The Post wrote to the General Delegation for National Security, but there was no response.
By Andrew Nsoseka