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German risks life in Cameroon jail over protest videos

Carolin Born
September 7, 2019

A Cameroonian-born German citizen Wilfried S. was detained in Yaounde in February over anti-government protest videos on his camera. His trial for allegedly trying to destablilize Cameroon is pending.

Kamerun Bazar Archivbild 16.03.2009
Image: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

"It's just a nightmare. I think the situation is drastic and we need to do something very quick for him to come back home," his wife Layoko Siewe told DW. 

On 29 August 2019, a military court in the capital Yaounde sentenced Wilfried S. to three years in prison on charges related to the unrest at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde.

The 41-year-old engineer and father of two from Erlangen in southern Germany is still due to face trial for allegedly trying to destabilize the government. 

Since the charges carry a life sentence, Lakoyo Siewe. is desperately campaigning for her husband's release. She is adamant that he did not take part in the prison rioting on 22 July 2019 as alleged in court.

Arrested on vacation

The couple and their two small children were due to depart Yaounde after a vacation when police apprehended Wilfried while taking photographs of a justice building. 

The officers who searched and deleted the images found videos of protests against the government of Cameroon that were recorded. Layoko Siewe says her husband was not at the protests at which the videos were shot. 

Erlangen in southern Germany, where Wilfried S. lives and works as an engineerImage: picture-alliance/Daniel Karman

German political support

The jailing of Wilfried S. is clearly politically motivated, says Christoph Hoffmann, who heads the German parliamentary group for Central Africa."In our point of view, freedom of expression includes taking pictures of demonstrations. However, autocrats have a different point of view," Hoffmann told DW.

It is understandable that many people within the Cameroonian diaspora are speaking out against the government of President Paul Biya, he says. However, returning to Cameroon, where there is no rule of law, is very dangerous, according to Hoffmann.

Read more: Opinion: Paul Biya's re-election is an insult to the people of Cameroon

Paul Biya
President Paul Biya's government has been criticized for not tolerating dissentImage: picture alliance/dpa/j. Warnand

The Biya government is facing mounting international criticism over its conflict with armed separatists in Cameroon's Anglophone regions. 

Cameroonians living abroad are particularly vocal and often speak out against the Biya government, on social media and in street demonstrations. Many are supporters of the Anglophone separatist movement.

Deutschland Demonstration gegen die Unterdrückung von Minderheiten in Kamerun
Protesters occupied the Cameroon embassy in Berlin as the Anglophone crisis intensified on 27 January 2017Image: picture-alliance/ZumaPress

Petition in circulation

German lawmaker Kathrin Vogler of the opposition Left party says the recent jailing of separatist leaders and Biya's main opposition rival, Maurice Kamto, amounts to a violation of human rights.

"Biya's government and the security forces crack down on anything that they feel is against the current government. And they do not stop at German citizen Wilfried S," Vogler told DW.

The Foreign Office in Germany says it is aware of the case and confirmed that the embassy in Yaounde is providing consular support to Wilfried S.

Meanwhile, an online petition for the release of Wilfried S. has drawn more than 66,000 signatures. At a demonstration  in Erlangen on 30 August 2019, participants called for his release and return to Germany.

"I'm just pleading with the German government – I know they are doing a lot already and I'm grateful for that – but I'm pleading with them to do more and put more pressure so that my husband comes home," says Layoko Siewe.

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