A court in Cameroon has sentenced seven activists from the country’s Anglophone minority, including their leader, to up to 15 years in prison for rebellion and acts of “terrorism”.
Mancho Bibixy, a radio presenter in the English-speaking Northwest Region, and dozens of fellow activists were arrested in January 2017 as part of a crackdown on a budding Anglophone secessionist movement.
The movement accuses President Paul Biya’s predominantly Francophone government of marginalising Cameroon’s English-speaking minority.
One activist was acquitted, Bibixy’s lawyer, Claude Assira, told the Reuter news agency, but he said the convictions “would only worsen the … Anglophone crisis”.
The six convicted were also ordered to pay a joint fine of 268 million CFA francs (398,000 euros) and must also pay the legal fees.
“The decision is excessive and pointless because it will not resolve the problem” of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, said Claude Assira, one of the lawyers representing the accused.
He added that they would appeal the decision, according to the AFP news agency.
Five other Anglophones on trial alongside the journalist received jail terms ranging from 10 to 15 years.
Crackdown and violence
What began as a peaceful protest movement in 2016 by teachers and lawyers against perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority became an armed conflict last year following violent crackdowns by government forces.
The violence helped fuel support for separatist movements, including armed groups aiming to create an independent state that have killed more than 20 soldiers and police officers.
The unrest has destabilised the Central African oil producer months before an election in which Biya will seek to extend his 35-year rule.
Tens of thousands of Cameroonians have fled reprisals by state forces to neighbouring Nigeria, and the US ambassador to Cameroon last week accused the Yaounde government of targeted killings, arson and looting.
The government denies those allegations and summoned the US ambassador earlier this week to protest against his remarks.