A military court in Cameroon has sentenced an opposition party leader to 25 years in prison after an unfair trial, Amnesty International said today.
Aboubakar Siddiki, President of the main opposition party in northern Cameroon, ‘Mouvement patriotique du salut camerounais’, was today convicted of charges including hostility against the homeland, revolution and contempt of the President, despite no credible evidence being presented to the court. In the same trial, Abdoulaye Harissou, a well-known notary, was also sentenced to three years prison for non-denunciation. However, the court finally dropped all charges against three journalists - Baba Wame, Felix Ebole Bola and Rodrigue Tongue –who were charged in 2014 with ‘non-denunciation’ of information and sources in relation to the same affair.
“Aboubakar Siddiki is the latest victim of the Cameroonian authorities’ strangling of opposition voices. Alongside Abdoulaye Harissou he has already spent more than three years in detention, suffered torture and now he must face a future behind bars on the basis of a politically motivated and deeply flawed trial,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad Researcher.
“While the decision to acquit the three journalists comes as a great relief, they should never have been charged in the first place simply for doing their job, and there should be no place for civilians in front of a military court.”
Aboubakar Siddiki and Abdoulaye Harissou were arrested in August 2014, accused without evidence of being involved in a conspiracy to destabilise the country. They were held incommunicado for over 40 days in an illegal facility run by the General Directorate of External Relations and subjected to torture.
Initially charged with complicity in murder, illegal possession of arms, hostility against the homeland, revolution, non-denunciation and contempt of the President, their trial began on 22 January 2016. On 9 October 2017, all charges except ‘non-denunciation’ were dropped against Harissou, but those against Siddiki were maintained.
In February 2017, the President of the military court ruled that all the evidence, except the report of the preliminary investigation, brought by the prosecution against Harissou and Siddiki were to be rejected because they did not support the charges. This decision was reaffirmed by a newly-appointed judge in April 2017. However, Harissou and Siddiki were never released, and were still convicted.
26 hearings before the military court
Siddiki, Harissou and the three journalists have attended 26 hearings before the Yaoundé military court, with hearings repeatedly postponed. The trial was marred by multiple irregularities including witnesses refusing to testify because of intimidation, the admission of evidence extracted under torture the failure to disclose relevant documents to the defense lawyers.
The three journalists were initially charged in October 2014 with ‘non-denunciation of information and sources’ under Cameroon’s Criminal Code and placed under judicial control which was lifted in January and February 2015 for each of them. Last month, the charges were requalified with contempt of the President of the Republic.
Having already been detained for more than three years awaiting trial, Abdoulaye Harissou should now be released from prison according to Cameroonian law. The lawyers of Aboubakar Siddiki have confirmed that they will appeal the judgement.
“This unfairness of this trial underscores the lack of independence and impartiality inherent in military courts in Cameroon, as elsewhere. The presumption of innocence, the right to an adequate defence and the independence of proceedings were all seriously undermined,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
“We are calling on the Cameroonian authorities to release and drop all charges against Aboubakar Siddiki and Abdoulaye Harissou, and refrain from ever using military courts to prosecute civilians.”