Cameroon: Appeals Court Judge Rebuffs Southern Cameroons, Orders Pro-Independence Leaders out of Courtroom

There was tension and expectations when Sisiku Julius AyukTabe and nine other Southern Cameroons leaders who are serving life sentences in jai walked into a courtroom at the Yaounde Court of Appeal.

But those expectations were dashed even before the hearing began. The moment the appellants were called up in the French Language, many of them raised their fingers to their ears to signal that they did not understand what the judge was saying.

“Où sont-ils? (where are they)? the judge, Mindjimba Mindjimba shouted, casting a panoramic look at the audience.

As Defense Counsel tried to explain that the appellants were English-speaking and therefore have, as of right, to be tried in the English Language, the Judge bullied him into silence.

“Nous ne sommes pas ici pour plaisanter” (we are not here to joke), Mindjimba shouted, and ordered the escort to shepherd AyukTabe and co out of the Court.

The ten pro-independence leaders abducted from a hotel in Abuja, Nigeria (C) Twitter

Apparently frightened about the backlash that would create, the military escort stayed put, and the pro-independence leaders spent close to an hour more, watching the presiding judge call up other cases. The military escort and other onlookers reportedly whispered among themselves that such a move was not just a show of disdain to the pro-independence leaders, but a complete rebuff of a people and territory (Southern Cameroons) they claim to be part of the Republic of Cameroon.

But they eventually had to leave-on their own volition.

But the refusal of the judge to speak the language of choice of the pro-independence leaders irked the defense team.

“It was incumbent on the presiding judge and assessors to speak in English in order that the accused persons who are now appellants in the court of Appeals should understand what the court wanted them to do,” Barrister Joseph Akuwiyadze who is a member of the Defense Council for the pro-independence leaders told Timescape.

“You don’t just hear your name in court, and you start jumping out, no! So, the judge refused to speak in English and abruptly adjourned the matter in an outrageous manner to the 20th of August 2020. And his refusal to speak in English is in gross violation of section 354 of the Criminal Procedure Code which makes it mandatory for the court to speak a language that the accused understands so long as it’s one of the official languages of Cameroon, that means English and French.”

He said the judge had also walked back on the 2019 law on the promotion of Bilingualism in Cameroon-a law that was introduced as part of measures to resolve the Anglophone problem.

Barrister Akuwiyadze said he was surprised that a judge in Cameroon could still afford to hold the English Language in disdain, given that the current armed conflict between the Cameroons is partly caused by the country’s language divide.

In 2017, Southern Cameroons teachers and lawyers took to the streets to protest what they saw as government attempts to annihilate the Common Law and education systems practiced in the once Independent State of Southern Cameroons.

The government took a hardline, using lethal force against the peaceful protesters. The protests morphed into political demands, with the country’s English speakers saying they wanted to break away and form a new state called Ambazonia.

The fighting now in its fourth year has left at least 12,000 people dead, according to multiple sources. At least 1,5 million people have been forced from their homes.

Several attempts have been made to resolve the problem, but they have yielded little dividends.

Little is being said today about the “Major National Dialogue” that recommended a ‘Special Status’ for the once Independent State of Southern Cameroons.

Recently, pro-independence Leader Sisiku AyukTabe revealed that he met with the Cameroon head of military Intelligence, General Eko Eko, during which meeting he gave four preconditions for any form of dialogue to begin.

He said the Cameroon government must withdraw the military from the streets and villages of Southern Cameroons “back into their barracks”, all English speakers arrested in connection with the crisis must be freed, a general amnesty must be granted to all those who have sought refuge in other countries and a timeframe for negotiations (to be held in  a neutral country and before a mutually accepted mediator) should be setup, agreed upon by both parties.

The said four points were later modified by other pro-independence movements to include a ceasefire supervised and implemented by an international armed force posted along the original border between the two Cameroons.