Both sides in Cameroon′s escalating separatist crisis turn on journalists | Africa | DW | 04.05.2018
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Africa

Both sides in Cameroon's escalating separatist crisis turn on journalists

As the separatist crisis in Cameroon's English-speaking regions escalates, DW talks to a journalist in Buea who is trying to report on it despite bad encounters with both sides.

A series of protests over the use of French, the perceived exclusion of English-speaking Cameroonians from the economy and politics provoked a sustained government crackdown and spawned an armed separatist struggle.

One journalist based in the Southwest capital of Buea told DW how the situation affects his work and personal safety. He asked that his identity be withheld out of fear of repercussions.

DW: There is a heavy security presence on the streets here and the region at large is in crisis. How do you go about your work under these conditions?

Sincerely, I cannot work because the government of Cameroon has put in some very strong repressive measures to make sure journalists don't report stories the way they have to. I'll give you an example: journalists are restricted from going to the war-torn areas. Those who even attempt to go there are being arrested. 

Even when we report stories in our newspapers, on radio or TV, we receive messages from the governor's office or from the office of the minister of information telling us we should tell them who gave us the information.

I reported on an attack on the convoy of government officials who visited war-torn areas and I was called to the governor's office to say when I was there and how i got the information. I didn't feel I was treated humanely. 

What do you mean they didn't treat you humanely?

I told them I had no source. I was told to sit on the ground and my shoes were removed. They used all forms of interrogation to make me give the information. I refused. I was put in the bunker in the governor's office for 30 minutes but still did not give the information. They told me I was lying and I was given two slaps - hefty slaps.

 As a journalist, have you also experienced pressure from the separatist side?

They've also been threatening journalists. I have received threats. When I talked aboutthe fact that separatists are also committing atrocities – they are beheading people – I received death threats.

They want the story to be told supporting them. One of them who took the time to reach me on Facebook to explain why they are threatening me said they are not killing civilians. If they have to kill anybody, it would be government spies [he said].

We have many journalists who have decided to be quiet, especially in the war-torn areas. Journalists there don't even practice. If you report in such area you can easily be targeted and killed. 

Yes, a lot of pressure is coming from the separatists. So far, the separatists have been very collaborative. They've been able to string in information through WhatsApp messages and all of that on what is happening on the ground, with images too.

On one occasion you were stopped at a checkpoint by militant separatists. Can you recall what happened that day?

The Ambazonian Defence Force (ADF) intercepted our bus and told everybody to come down and present identification to show that you are Anglophone. They asked us to support them in any way we can. Some people gave them food, others gave them money and the like.

So that is how we saw our way out of it, and they allowed us to go. It was at first a very terrorizing situation because you saw some 90 hefty men, but you also saw some four very young people, as young as 15 in the ADF. The 15-year-old was the one terrorising two Francophones.

 Did he carry a gun too?

Yes, he had an AK47. One of them said: "My home village has been entirely burned down. I don't have anywhere to live, I would rather be killed." They had guns, some of them had machetes.

 What happened to the French-speaking passengers?

I cannot tell because our bus had to leave with them still with the ADF. But we later heard from social media that the two men were only beaten, maltreated and sent back by bus. So they were not killed.

Civil servants are being threatened in the region. Are they able to go about their lives here?

They are very traumatized. Even as they have left the war torn areas and they are in a safer area, they are still traumatized because they get these anonymous calls and text messages. The normal trend is, the Ambazonians are advocating for no schools. They think having no schools at the moment will help tell the world their real story. Teachers who have summoned the courage to work are being threatened.

On April 25, a teacher was shot in Kumba and April 27 another was shot in Muyuka. Unfortunately, because of the crisis and because they are defying the instruction of the Ambazonians, they are being targeted and killed.

How about other civil servants? Are they also targeted?

Those working in war-torn areas have been told to leave the government and join the Ambazonian side. If you join the Ambazonians, you'll be able to work freely and you will not take command from the government side and you won't be targeted. So many of these civil servants have decided to be toeing the line of the government and they are being targeted.

Although we have not confirmed cases of civil servants who have been killed, we know of many who have been brutalized, including one administrator who was shot in the head twice. 

So many civil servants are now in Buea because they feel it is safer since the military is in high number there.

Demonstrators carrying placards march along the streets of Douala in Cameroon

Cameroonians who oppose to the independence for Anglophone regions have also taken to the streets

 Is it safe in Buea?

People are arrested almost on a daily basis. The prison in Buea was meant for a little more than 1,500 people, but at the moment it holds more than 5,000 prisoners, many linked to the Ambazonian struggle. They are facing inhumane conditions. 

 Are they tried in court?

At the moment Buea doesn't try those linked to the Ambazonian crisis. Before March some trials took place, but information came from Yaounde that all trials should stop and the prominent prisoners be sent there. 

The interview was conducted by Adrian Kriesch.

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