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Cameroon echoes global cries for independence

International | Rights group accuses security forces of killing 17 secessionist demonstrators
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/03/17, 01:40 pm

At least 17 people died in weekend clashes between security forces and protesters in Cameroon’s English-speaking region amid calls for independence from the country’s French-majority region, according to Amnesty International.

The unrest is the latest in a global wave of secession movements that have escalated in recent weeks. The southeast Biafra region in neighboring Nigeria continues to push for separation from the country. A similar movement 50 years ago killed between 1 million and 10 million people. Close to 90 percent of voters in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia cast ballots on Sunday in favor of independence from Spain. Security forces clashed with voters there, and more than 800 people sustained injuries. Iraq’s Kurdish region similarly held an independence vote despite fierce opposition from the Iraqi and regional governments.

In Cameroon, tens of thousands of English-speaking residents brandished tree branches and blue and white independence flags and stormed the streets on Sunday, the 56th anniversary of the English region’s incorporation into the country. In the region’s main cities of Buea and Bamenda, businesses closed as military helicopters hovered overhead. Cameroon’s government banned public gatherings and forbade movement across the region ahead of the anniversary, and security forces worked to disperse the protesters with live bullets and tear gas. In Bamenda, BBC reporter Randy Joe Sa’ah said he heard what sounded like gunshots or fireworks Monday morning and received earlier reports of security forces breaking into homes to arrest people.

Cameroon is officially a bilingual French- and English-speaking country, with English speakers making up about 20 percent of the population. Renewed protests began late last year as the Anglophone region complained of marginalization from the French majority. Schools in Cameroon’s English regions have been closed since November, as lawyers and teachers launched a strike against the official use of the French language. The government responded by blocking social media platforms such as WhatsApp in the region. The conflict has now escalated to calls for separation.

“We are working to make a new country, and we are ready,” said Julius Ayuk Tabe, the movement’s leader. “The cries of the people are getting louder.” Tabe told Reuters the death toll from the weekend clashes was likely to exceed 30 people. Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher, Ilaria Allegrozzi, described the escalating crisis as “extremely worrying” and called on the government to investigate the killings.

In a social media post, Cameroonian President Paul Biya wrote he strongly condemns “all acts of violence, regardless of their sources and perpetrators.” But Hans Heungoup, the International Crisis Group’s Cameroon analyst, said the government for a long time denied the gravity of the unrest, and the security forces’ brutal response only helped to nurture the calls for secession. He said the past trend makes it unlikely that the government would be open to dialogue with the separatists: “I doubt that the government would go in that direction if there’s no international pressure pushing them to act in that way.”

Associated Press/Photo by Sergei Grits Associated Press/Photo by Sergei Grits Simferopol, Crimea

UN accuses Russia of human rights abuses in Crimea

The United Nations human rights council criticized Russia for “multiple and grave violations” in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula since its 2014 occupation. Russian officials deny the allegations, according to the BBC.

A UN report released Sept. 25 detailed the deterioration of human rights and alleged breaches of international law. Russia imposed harmful citizenship changes, censored journalists and media outlets, limited speech and assembly, nationalized many properties, and worse, according to the report.

The commission also documented incidents of torture, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detainments, and at least one extrajudicial execution. In one 2016 example, Russian FSB agents used torture, including sexual violence, to coerce terrorism confessions from two pro-Ukrainian individuals.

Investigators found courts often disregarded accusations that Russian agents used torture or ill treatment and that officials intimidated defense attorneys.

“The judiciary has failed to uphold the rule of law and exercise proper administration of justice,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “There is an urgent need for accountability for human rights violations and abuses and for providing the victims with redress.”

Ethnic Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and others perceived as anti-Russia experienced the worst treatment and discrimination. Russian occupiers forced religious institutions to reregister with the government and implemented Russia’s Yarovaya extremism laws. Many religious groups either could not or would not reregister, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, which refused. The lack of legal status prompted property seizures and closures. Russian authorities broke into a Ukrainian Orthodox church in Simferopol as recently as August 2017, according to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.

Russia annexed Crimea by military force and a referendum many considered illegal in March 2014 after protests prompted the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Ng Han Guan Associated Press/Photo by Ng Han Guan A Chinese national flag at a restaurant in Beijing

China clamps down on free speech ahead of National Congress

As China’s Communist Party prepares for its 19th National Congress on Oct. 18, human rights activists say the country’s leadership has intensified its censorship efforts in a bid to tighten its grip on power. The congress, held every five years, usually involves the election of new leadership.

Xu Qin, who leads the China Rights Observer, told Radio Free Asia that state security police set up 24-hour surveillance outside the home of Wu Lijuan, editor of the Rose China human rights association. The Information Center for Human Rights Defenders reported authorities arrested democracy activists Xu Lin and Liu Si. Chinese social media firm Weibo Corp. last week announced it would recruit some 1,000 supervisors to help weed out sensitive content from its website under a program led by the country’s top internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). The CAC already dished out fines against Weibo, a service similar to Twitter, and some other tech companies for failing to censor illegal content on their sites, including political articles and social commentary.

Beijing Party Secretary Cai Qi met with local party officials last week to gain their commitment toward “maintaining safety and stability,” ahead of the congress. China’s Guangzhou city announced subway stations would require all commuters to pass through metal detectors beginning this month. In the city of Shenzhen, police officials performed emergency response exercises at a local shopping mall. —O.O.

U.S. religious freedom commission highlights blasphemy cases

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wants to encourage focus “on the real people impacted” by blasphemy laws around the world. The commission released a report last week detailing specific cases, including that of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic who was accused of blasphemy after a disagreement with her fellow farmhands in 2009. Bibi remains in prison pending an appeal of her death sentence. In Saudi Arabia, authorities detained blogger and activist Raif Badawi in 2012. They charged Badawi, who is Muslim, with apostasy and setting up an internet forum that violated Islamic values. —O.O.

Libya arrests militant involved in beheading Coptic Christians

Authorities have arrested a suspect in connection with the 2015 beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. Chief Prosecutor Al-Sadiq al-Sour said the beheading occurred behind a seaside hotel in the coastal city of Sirte. “The individuals involved in the beheading are known to us by name,” al-Sour said, as they launched search operations. He added authorities also learned where the militants buried the bodies. Islamic State (ISIS) released a video online documenting the killings after they happened. Egypt at the time responded with airstrikes against ISIS targets. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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