Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Violation of basic right to take pictures in Cameroon

The renovated Bamenda grandstand. Photo:
I visited Cameroon in December 2010 and was taken aback by the almost total absence of civil liberties, social rights and fundamental freedoms in the country I call home. Besides the fact that millions of people are deprived of a life of dignity by a 28-year-old regime and live on or below the poverty line, basic rights like the right to freely take pictures of public structures are commonly denied by oppressive state agents.

During my stay in Bamenda, the capital of the North West region of Cameroon and stronghold of the opposition, I visited the city centre - known locally as the Commercial Avenue. I was impressed by the level of development on the avenue which had fallen into a state of "chaos" and disrepair a fews years back. The roads have been paved, the sidewalks cleared and most importantly, the dilapidated grandstand has been given a much-needed make-over.

I could not resist taking a picture of the grandstand.

As I pulled out my camera and focused in the direction of the grandstand, a concerned shop owner nearby approached me and told me to be cautious because the enlisted military personnel guarding the grandstand would confiscate my camera if they see me taking pictures of the public structure. The shop owner told me he once witnessed the confiscation of a camera by the guards a few weeks back.

This experience reminded me of another incident recounted by a reliable source.

During a recent official visit of the Head of State to Bamenda, law enforcement officers stopped many people from taking pictures of the presidential motorcade.

People reserve the right to take pictures in public. This is the general rule and it should be respected in a free state, unless a picture violates privacy or poses a threat to national security. A  picture of the grandstand in Bamenda does not violate any privacy law or threaten national security, neither does a picture of the president or his motorcade.

The authorities should take concrete steps to ensure that security officers and military personnel stationed to guard public property do not resort to violation of basic rights of harmless citizens - either through intimidation or illegal confiscation of private property.

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