By Edith Kah Walla
A first person account by the leader of Cameroon People's Party (CPP) on what happened today, March 23, 2017, at the Yaounde Military Tribunal where human rights lawyer Felix Nkongho Abgo-Balla, University lecturer Dr. Neba Fontem, radio host Bibixy Mancho, and 27 others are being tried on spurious terrorism charges.
Kah Walla at the Military Tribunal
From 11:15 to 3:30 p.m. today, I decided to attend the court session at the military tribunal. Here are some of the key elements observed.
Agbor Balla, Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy have already been deprived of their liberty for 65 days. Unfortunately, today, no progress was made on their case.
• At 1:15 p.m. when the ordeal of name-reading was completed, the state prosecutor petitioned to have the case of the 27 defendants joined to that of Agbor Balla, Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy. Defense lawyers requested 30 mins to concert and determine their response.
At 2:30 p.m. the court session resumes. Defense lawyers argue that the two cases cannot be joined due to the fact that they do not consist of the same charges, nor the same persons, nor having been committed at the same place. Defense lawyers urge the judge to get on to the content of the case, reminding that when the case was postponed at the last session on February 13th, it was to enable the state counsel to produce a list of witnesses and for these witnesses to be heard. Defense lawyers also underline that even though procedure states that the list of witnesses should be provided 5 days before trial, they had been handed a list the night before at 6:00 p.m. Despite this violation of procedure, defense lawyers insist they are ready to hear the witnesses.
Agbor Balla and Bibixy Mancho (standing) in court today
We all wait with baited breath, convinced we are finally going to hear more about these charges of terrorism, incitement to insurrection, revolution, etc. that have caused these men to be put on trial and their lives to be put at stake.
We waited in vain. The judge determined that to deliberate on whether or not the two cases should be joined, we must wait until…. April 7th !!!! She then makes further precision, the case itself will be heard on April 27th !!!
The entire court is frustrated and annoyed. These 30 men have been deprived of their liberty for 65 days, for some, more. This is their 3rd court appearance, how can it be that we have just spent 4 hours on procedure without hearing the content of the case?
There is no other conclusion to be arrived at other than that there is a delaying strategy by the State. The theory that government simply feels it can wear down the Anglophone movement through violence, fear and time appears more real than ever.
We take our frustrations and anger home. More determined than ever to fight these layers of injustice upon injustice that are being heaped upon the entire Cameroonian people! Determined also that to win this fight we must more than ever be focused on concerted, organized, non-violent, but determined action that ensures decisions veer to the side of justice.
It is the future of every Cameroonian which is at stake. The action that each of us takes day-in and day-out will determine what that future will be.
The charges against Agbor Balla, Fontem, and Mancho
Three things I did not understand in court today:
- Why on earth are the judges and state counsels in this case not bilingual? Surely there is a bilingual judge somewhere in the Cameroonian court system who could hear a case in English and a state counsel that could argue it without needing translation? Is this not precisely what got us here in the first place?
- Why are there no microphones in the court room of what is probably the most politically important case in Cameroon in the last 20 years? We strain in the court room to hear the judge, the lawyers and the defendants. In this country where we spend billions to throw a state party, no one thought we might need microphones in court? At the 3rd court session?
- Why are we in this small court, which can only seat about half of the people who want to attend? The box is too small to contain all the defendants, the benches are too few to contain all the lawyers, even the defendants are squeezed tight on the benches they occupy? Why does this system insist on showing its lack of planning and organization to the entire world
From the logistics to content of the case, one leaves with only one impression:
- This is not the Cameroon I want to live in, this is not the Cameroon I want to leave my children and grandchildren.
I am more determined than ever to help bring about the change we need in this beautiful country. #JusticeinCameroon #FreeAllArrested
For a background on how we got here, click here for a fairly detailed article by The Daily Telegraph.