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Cameroon: UN experts concerned by crackdown on protests

UN human rights experts* have expressed concerns over a crackdown against protesters in Cameroon following President Paul Biya’s re-election, and called for the protection of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

International human rights standards establish the right of everyone to participate in peaceful demonstrations, the experts said. Any restriction to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression must be provided by the law and be necessary and proportional.

“The restrictions imposed lately by the Cameroonian authorities on the rights to peaceful assembly and expression appear to ignore such criteria, provided for by the international instruments to which Cameroon is a party,” they said. In particular, the experts underline that the country’s 2014 anti-terrorism law should not be used to curtail peaceful assembly, marches or demonstrations organised by political parties during an electoral process. Under this law, police custody can be extended from 48 hours to 15 days, and jurisdiction transferred to military courts.

Independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council have previously expressed concerns to the authorities of Cameroon that a broad definition of terrorism, such as “disruption of the normal functioning of public services", could be misused to ban peaceful assembly.

These worries had still not been addressed, the experts said. The authorities should respect the national legal framework for demonstrations, which requires organisers to notify local authorities seven days prior to a demonstration.

The experts acknowledged as a positive step the dropping of charges against 52 militants of the Mouvement de la Renaissance du Cameroun on 4 December, at the request of the Attorney General at the Littoral Court of Appeal, under the instructions of the Minister of Justice.

“The allegations received last month seem to indicate the establishment of a repressive climate towards civil society, political parties, and people critical of the outcome of the elections, whether it concerns their right to express their views or to manifest freely,” the experts said.

The experts repeated their calls for a review of the 2014 antiterrorism law to ensure it is not used to restrict fundamental freedoms, such as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. They also urged the Government to ensure a wider democratic space is guaranteed before, during and after the forthcoming legislative and municipal elections scheduled in 2019.

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