Cameroun: Lawyers Plan Massive Demonstration to Protest Violation of Right of Access to Detained Clients

The Defense Team of the ten Southern Cameroons leaders who are serving life sentences  at the Kondengui maximum security prison in Yaounde have vowed to stage protests at the prison to force the prisons administration to allow them right of access to their clients.

A July 22 release signed by the head of the communication and media relations team for the lawyers, Barrister Nicodemus Amungwa, states that “our Resolve to Stage a Peaceful Protest in front of the Principal Prison Kondengui Yaoundé to press on the Justice and Penitentiary Administrations to grant us access to our clients is maintained.”

The strike was initially planned for July 17, but Amungwa says when they got to the Prison, the officers on post stated that high instructions from hierarchy forbid lawyers from accessing their clients whereas other visitors were granted access.

The right of Counsel to clients is protected by section 240(1) of the Cameroon Criminal Procedure Code which states that “Counsel shall visit his client, in detention only between the hours of six (6) am and six (6) pm”.

Additionally, section 41 of decree No. 92/052 of March 27, 1992 regulating the Penitentiary Administration in Cameroon guarantees the right of detainees to communicate with their Counsel whenever they wish during visit without the presence of any guard.

Barrister Nicodemus Amungwa, Spokesperson of the Nera Defense Team (C) BBC.com

“The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolutions on December 17th, 2015 on the Mandela Rules wherein minimum conditions for detainees were reinforced, especially rule 61-1 in particular,” Amungwa says.

“These rights are absolute, fundamental and foundational to the Constitutional rights of any citizen or accused. Violations of the above instruments by the Penitentiary and Justice Administrations are a deliberate attempt to continue to humiliate not only lawyers but our clients whom we represent,” the release states.

Yet, the Defense team of the Southern Cameroons leaders have been systematically denied access to their clients.

“We have resolved to return to the Principal Prison Kondengui as soon as possible, to cause the Penitentiary and Justice authorities to grant us access to our clients,” Amungwa says in the release.

The release further invites all other lawyers across the country to join in the strike whose date has not been announced, but Amungwa says it is going to overwhelm the administration.

“Our plea is that this call for action be heeded to so that the powers that be sit up, perform their functions, obey and respect the institutions of the Republic of Cameroon by permitting us to perform our duties as lawyers as well”.

Two years ago, 47 English-speaking Cameroonians were arrested in Nigeria and put under custody in Cameroon for suspected acts of terrorism. Among them were the ten Southern Cameroons pro-independence leaders, namely Mr. Julius AyukTabe, Pr. Augustine Awasum, Barrister Elias Eyambe, Dr. Henry Kimeng, Dr. Fidelis Nde-Che, Dr. Cornelius Njikimpi Kwanga, Dr. Nfor Ngalla Nfor, Dr. Egbe Ogork, Barrister Blaise Shufai Berinyuy, Mr. Wilfred Tassang.

They were handed life sentences after a 19-hour marathon trial that ran from August 19 to August 20, 2019.

The Defense team had during the trial withdrawn their appearances in protest over what they called serious travesties of the law.

“Even so, the Court proceeded to carry out a lopsided trial, condemned them to life and set onerous and unconscionable conditions of Appeal – amongst them payment of deposit fees of Five Million CFA F,” Amungwa says.

The case is before the Court of Appeal, for the Centre Region. On three consecutive occasions when the Appeal Court was supposed to carry out a hearing, “The legal department-prosecution failed to produce our clients before the court.”

The last hearing that took place on July 16, 2020 was however different: Sisiku AyukTabe and nine others  were present, but the hearing couldn’t take place because the Judge refused to speak in the English language-the language spoken and understood by the pro-independence leaders of the once Independent State of Southern Cameroons.