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Freedom House calls for release of political and civil society activists

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington, March 11, 2011 - Freedom House is deeply concerned about the well-being of eight political and civil society activists who have been arbitrarily arrested in Cameroon and urges authorities to release them immediately without harm.

Between February 20, 2011 and February 23, 2011, the following individuals were arbitrarily arrested in Yaoundé: Billy Batipe, Abba Abubakar, Urban Essomba, Dibonji Bruno, Bouba Michel, Patrick Nyamsi, Olinga Cyprian, and Beloved Adoueme. Several of them are known for their activism within opposition political parties and/or civil society organizations.

Since their arrest they have been denied all communications, including with their families and lawyers - which allowed their arrest to go unnoticed for several days. The 48-hour delay for preventive detention has long passed and they have yet to appear before the prosecutor. The detainees have been routinely moved from one detention center to another without notice to their families and lawyers, and authorities have refused to inform their lawyers of the charges against them. This treatment is in clear contradiction of Cameroon's Code of Penal Procedure and contravenes universal human rights principles.

"The democratic process in Cameroon cannot be considered credible if citizens fear for their security when they speak out. With presidential elections just months away, it is imperative that citizens have the right to exercise their freedoms of expression and association," said David J. Kramer, executive director at Freedom House. "Freedom House calls on the Cameroonian government to immediately release those arrested and to fully respect Cameroonians' constitutionally protected freedoms."

The arrests were triggered by calls for demonstrations to occur in Douala and Yaounde on the anniversary of the February 23, 2008 riots. The government responded to the calls with a heavy deployment of security forces on the day of the anniversary, as well as by rejecting the opposition's request to rally in Douala and by publicly stating that civil demonstrations would not be tolerated. There were no mass mobilizations on February 23, 2011. However, a few people who gathered in Douala to commemorate the anniversary were arrested and released soon after, including opposition leaders who alleged they had been brutalized.

Cameroon is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.

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