Cameroon. Authorities shut down an Amnesty International press conference

Authorities in Cameroon have shut down an Amnesty International press conference scheduled to take place in Yaoundé this morning, the organization said today.

Early this morning, around a dozen security agents, in uniform and plain clothes, entered the hotel and ordered the managers to close the press conference venue. No written administrative justification was provided for the prohibition, although a written order was presented banning another event with partners in the afternoon.

“The aim of the press conference was to present more than 310,000 letters and petitions signed from people all across the world, asking President Paul Biya to release three students imprisoned for 10 years simply for sharing a joke by SMS about Boko Haram,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Director.

A formal letter declaring the hosting of the press conference was handed to the Yaoundé 1 prefecture by Amnesty International’s partners on 19 May. The prefecture acknowledged receipt of the letter. On 22 May Amnesty International’s partners reminded prefecture about the press conference. While Cameroonian law requires a prior declaration informing the authorities of the organization of a public meeting, such a prohibition cannot be justified.

“These students have done nothing more than share a private joke, but their conviction and sentence could see them spend a decade behind bars and destroy their future prospects. We join more than 310,000 people across the world in calling on the authorities in Cameroon to release these students, allow them to re-join their families, and realize their dream of continuing their studies and finding a job,” said Alioune Tine.

Another event planned for this afternoon by one of Amnesty International’s local partners, to discuss the human rights situation in the country, was also prohibited. In a written decision dated 23 May 2017, the prefect of the Yaounde 1 district held that “because of the threat of disruption of public order, the conference entitled “Human rights and the fight against terrorism in Cameroon”, scheduled from 2 pm to 6 pm, is prohibited from taking place”.