Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly remain illusive in Cameroon, central Africa, as security forces continue to enforce limitations on fundamental freedoms "enshrined in Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, and The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights...". It is not uncommon for authorities to ban peaceful assemblies and order the arrest and detention of demonstrators - in violation of the right to peaceful assembly and expression. This afternoon, I was once again disturbed by news of the arrest of prospective peaceful protesters in Yaounde, capital of Cameroon.
According to a local news outlet, The Post, security forces raided the office of Association Citoyenne de Défense des Intérêts Collectifs (Citizen's Association for the Defense of Collective Interests) - ACDIC - in Yaounde and arrested 39 activists. The activists were arrested while preparing for a peaceful protest against the government's agricultural policies. The protesters, mostly farmers, were demanding good farm-to-market roads and more support for agriculture. [Source: Reuters].
The demonstration planned for 31 May 2011 was reportedly banned by the Senior Divisional Officer (SDO) for Mfoundi. It is worth recalling that the same authority barred an opposition party from participating in National Day celebrations in the nation's capital.
It is common knowledge that the right to free expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights which must be guaranteed in a free and democratic society. The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon provides for these freedoms.
The Constitution clearly states in the Preamble that "... freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association and of trade unionism, as well as the right to strike shall be guaranteed...". It also states that "the state shall guarantee all citizens of either sex the rights and freedoms set forth in the Preamble of the Constitution."
Although the arrested members of ACDIC have reportedly been released, such a violation of rights must be condemned. Arresting activists planning a peaceful protest to express their grievances is purely unconstitutional and contravenes the rule of law.
The state should uphold all principles laid down in the Constitution and respect its human rights obligations under international law.
Since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in North Africa and the Middle East, the 28-year-old government of Cameroon has been on alert and has heavy-handedly dealt with prospects of an uprising. On 23 February 2011, riot police brutally cracked down on peaceful demonstrators in the country's economic capital. The government ordered the suspension of Twitter mobile in March.
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