Cameroonian lawmakers have voted in favor of a bill under which involvement in acts of terrorism will be punished by the death penalty. Rights groups and opposition deputies say the measure is repugnant.
Legislators in both houses of Cameroon's parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate voted for the death penalty for all those found guilty of carrying out, abetting or sponsoring acts of terrorism. Once it has been signed by President Paul Biya, the bill will become law.
Opposition lawmakers and human rights activists say the legislation is repugnant and runs contrary to the spirit of equal rights and liberty enshrined in Cameroon's constitution. But the government maintains it would deter terrorist activities. In the north of the country, Cameroon's military are fighting cross-border raids by the Nigeria-based militant Islamist sect Boko Haram.
Cameroonian opponents of the death penalty are unconvinced by such arguments.
"It is unthinkable that some people want to impose such an archaic law. We have been living with terrorist attacks. but it is unimaginable that the government is considering enacting a law which is more dangerous than terrorism. They should respect the constitution of this country,'' said Aboubakar Siroma, a senator from the Cameroonian opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF). Siroma was speaking before the vote was carried.
Directed against political opponents
Some human right advocates believe this measure is more than a questionable deterrent to acts of terrorism. They think Cameroon's government wants to use it to settle scores with Biya's opponents.
"From every indication, the liberty of individuals to express their frustration with government action will be reprimanded with a heavy hand and accusing people of crimes against the state," said Ndi Richard Tantoh from the NGO Ecumenical Service for Peace.
Another Yaounde-based human rights advocate voices similar, more sharply-focused concerns.
"That law is a dangerous law for the citizens of this country. This law could be used against those who oppose the regime, you know, it is stopping freedom of expression, liberty and all of that," said Eugene Ngalim from the Cameroon Human Rights Commission.
Ordinary Cameroonians have mixed feelings about the law.
"We can say it is a good thing to fight terrorism, but I think that they should not be talking of killing people, they should instead keep them alive so they can help with investigations," said Mathieu Guy Elle in Yaounde.
George Arrey, who supports the death penalty for convicted terrorists, said Cameroon was returning to capital punishment because of the gravity of the terrorist threat:
"When you see how those guys act, you also think that there should be a way of counter attacking," he said
Boko Haram has been blamed for dozens of deaths and killings in northern Cameroon in recent months. Cameroonian officials have long feared that the group is targeting young men in the region for recruitment.
The country also faces growing insecurity along its eastern border with Central African Republic.
The rights group Amnesty International says Cameroon has not carried out an execution since 1997.