By: M. Brandon Maggiore
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa
YAOUNDE, Cameroon – At least 17 people have been killed in protests in Cameroon in which youths are fighting with police. The opposition says the unrest is due to the rising costs of fuel and food while the president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, accused his political rivals of creating the unrest in order to depose him. The violence started as a nationwide transport strike because of fuel costs and turned into anti-government demonstrations. Preisdent Biya has been in power for twenty-five years and has suggested amending the constitution of Cameroon so that he can run for president again in 2011, another source of anger amongst the protesters.
Biya says he will use all legal means to end the violence in which boarding schools have been targeted by mobs of young men demanding they join the protesters. The boarding schools may have been targeted by the youths because the children of the Cameroonian elite are students there. Teachers managed to prevent the taking of most of the students except for about two-hundred. There is fear that the students were taken to be used as human shields. Some children are still unaccounted for after most returned to their homes or boarding schools within several hours. However, it is believed that a teenage boy was shot dead in Bamenda.
The main journalist’s union in Cameroon accused the government of trying to silence media coverage of the riots. A privately owned radio station in Yaounde was shut down by armed law enforcement on Thursday after callers to the radio station criticized the President’s handling of the protests. This shutdown followed the shutdown of a radio station in Biya on Tuesday. Reporters Without Borders has also expressed its concern over the media crackdown in Cameroon and has called on the government to return all equipment removed from the radio station in Yaounde and to permit it to resume broadcasting.
Cameroonian writers, both from inside Cameroon and abroad, signed a letter sent to deputies in the government urging them not to modify the country’s constitution. The letter used strong language stating a “single foul play with the constitution could plunge the entire nation into insurmountable chaos.” The letter also criticized members of parliament saying “The President has availed himself of the de facto majority accorded him in the national assembly by you, CPDM parliamentarians, to trample on the constitution of this land. Worse still, he has had recourse to armed elements of the police force to silence those dissenting voices that have dared to openly object to his scheme.”
For more information, please see:
BBC News – Deadly violence rages in Cameroon – 29 February 2008
Reuters – Cameroon govt accused of muzzling media over riots – 29 February 2008
afrol News – Cameroon writers warn MPs – 29 February 2008
Reporters Without Borders – Private radio suspended, independent newspapers prevented from appearing – 29 February 2008