Cameroon: Confirmation of the death while in detention of Mr. Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe, aka Samuel Wazizi

08/06/2020
Urgent Appeal

New information
CMR 002 / 0620 / OBS 061.1
Death in detention
Cameroon
June 8, 2020

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

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the confirmation of the death while in detention of Mr. Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe, aka Samuel Wazizi, a journalist working for the privately-owned broadcaster Chillen Muzik and TV (CMTV) in Buea, the capital of the English-speaking Southwest region of Cameroon. Mr. Wazizi was particularly known for reporting on cases of human rights violations that occurred in the context of the Anglophone crisis [1] and has expressed critical views regarding the management of the crisis by the Cameroon government.

According to the information received, on June 5, 2020, the Spokesperson for the Cameroonian Ministry of Defense Colonel Cyrille Atonfack issued a statement confirming that Mr. Samuel Wazizi died at Yaoundé Military Hospital as a result of severe sepsis on August 17, 2019. The statement denied allegations according to which he would have been tortured in detention, and further stated that the family had been informed of his death, which the later refuted.

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Wazizi was missing since August 7, 2019 (see background information) and notes that the military statement came as a result of wide national and international pressure after media reports alleged in early June 2020 that he had died at Yaoundé Military Hospital as a result of acts of torture he was reportedly subjected to by military officials while in detention.

The Observatory strongly condemns the death while in detention of Mr. Samuel Wazizi and expresses its deep indignation that it took 10 months to the authorities to acknowledge his death, despite repeated requests from his family, lawyers, colleagues and media to get information about his fate and whereabouts.

The Observatory urges the Cameroonian authorities to immediately carry out a thorough, transparent and independent investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture and his related killing in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

The Observatory condemns the increase in recent years of intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders and journalists in Cameroon, particularly since the beginning of the socio-political crisis in the Anglophone regions at the end of 2016, and recalls that several defenders of the rights of the Anglophone minority have been subjected to attacks, harassment and arbitrary detention under the Anti-Terrorism Law, or enforced disappearance, including Messrs. Felix Agbor Nkongho [2], Mancho Bibixy Tse [3] and Franklin Mowha [4].

Background information:

On August 2, 2019, Mr. Samuel Wazizi was arbitrarily arrested by the Buea police and brought to the Muea neighbourhood police station. He was reportedly accused of “collaborating with separatists” and “spreading separatist information”, although to date no formal charges have been brought against him. Mr. Wazizi was denied bail as he was potentially facing charges under the Anti-Terrorism Law, which allows for indefinite detention without charges.

On August 7, 2019 Mr. Samuel Wazizi was allegedly transferred to the 21st Motorized Infantry Battalion in Buea, even though the military do not have authority to investigate such charges and to try civilians. Mr. Wazizi’s whereabouts remained unknown until June 5, 2020.

On November 5, 2019, the Fako Division of the High Court in Buea dismissed on technical grounds a habeas corpus petition that demanded Mr. Wazizi to be formally charged by a competent court or otherwise to be released.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cameroon to urge them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all human rights defenders in Cameroon;

ii. Conduct an immediate, thorough, transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Samuel Wazizi’s above-mentioned allegations of torture and killing, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and punish them as provided by the law;

iii. Put an end to all act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all human rights defenders in Cameroon, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6, 9 and 12.2.;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Cameroon.

Addresses:

• H.E Mr. Paul Biya, President of the Republic, Presidency of the Republic, Palais de l’Unité, 1000 Yaoundé, Cameroon, Fax +237 22 22 08 70
• H.E. Mr. Joseph Dion Nguté, Prime Minister and Chief Head of Government, Primature du Cameroun, 1000 Yaoundé‚ Cameroon. Fax: +237 22 23 57 65. Email: spm@spm.gov.cm
• Mr. Laurent Esso, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice, 1000 Yaoundé‚ Cameroon, Fax: + 237 22 23 00 05
• Mr. Atanga Nji Paul, Minister of Territorial Administration, Fax: + 237 22 22 37 35
• National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Fax: +237 22 22 60 82, E-mail: cndhl@iccnet.cm
• H.E. Mr. Anatole Fabien Marie Nkou, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Avenue de France 23, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 736 21 65, Email: mission.cameroun@bluewin.ch
• H.E. Mr. Daniel Evina Abe’e, Ambassador of Cameroon to Belgium & the European Union, Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon in Brussels, 131 av. Brugmann, 1190 (Forest), Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 344 57 35; Email: ambassade.cameroun@skynet.be; embassy@cameroon.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cameroon in your respective countries.

***
Geneva-Paris, June 8, 2020

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

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
◦ E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
◦ Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
◦ Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] After the 2016 peaceful protests in the Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions of Cameroon against the increasing discrimination faced by the Anglophone minority of the country were violently repressed by Paul Biya’s government, an ongoing conflict between the forces of the government and armed separatist groups broke out, leaving a death toll of at least 3,000 individuals and more than 700,000 displaced civilians.
[2] See Observatory Urgent Appeal CMR 001 / 0520 / OBS 052, published on May 14, 2020.
[3] See Observatory Urgent Appeal CMR 001 / 0418 / OBS 042, published on April 9, 2018, as well as OMCT #FacesOfHope profile, “Mancho Bibixy Tse, in prison for promoting Anglophone rights”, May 16, 2020: https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/cameroon/2020/05/d25840/
[4] See Observatory Urgent Appeal CMR 003 / 0918 / OBS 117, published on September 25, 2018.

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