Thank you for once again acting to secure our release from police custody today. Please do not get tired of this, nor think that what you do is of little value. YOUR ACTION IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF WHAT KEEPS US SAFE AS ACTIVISTS IN CAMEROON.
Please do not tire or relent. Our safety and our lives depend on it.
Yesterday was national day in Cameroon. Our party the Cameroon People’s Party has systematically been excluded from participating in the national day parade in the capital city of Yaoundé since 2011. This year was no exception. After we received the administrative note to this effect, we decided:
1. CPP would not participate in the national day parade anywhere in the national territory in solidarity with our comrades in Yaoundé. We refused to be a part of this game the regime plays where there is one law for the country and a separate one for Yaoundé.
2. Having been excluded from national day celebrations, CPP decided we would celebrate under the theme of “Diversity and Inclusion: Wealth of the Nation”. Our subthemes were: inclusion for the English-speaking population, inclusion for person with disabilities, inclusion for women and youth in national decision-making, inclusion for the population of the Extreme North (victims of Boko Haram), etc.
The CPP would be celebrating in over 10 different cities throughout the country.
As we woke up this morning we happily got ready for the event in Yaoundé. We were expecting about 200 people and had an exciting program with artists musicians, agora-style discussion sessions, etc.
At about 11:00 a.m. we received a call from one of our Center Region party leaders stating that police had raided our headquarters, seized materials, arrested 9 people and were requesting my presence. I rushed to the public location that the policeman I spoke to over the phone had indicated to me. He assured me we just needed to clear up a few details about the CPP event. I went, knowing that I might be arrested. Once even one CPP member is arrested, I believe it is my duty to assist that person. Off I went.
Predictably, upon arrival, I and two party leaders, Bergeline Domou and Grace Baleba were arrested. We were taken to the Directorate for the Surveillance of the National Territory. It was about 12:15 p.m. Upon arrival, the police commissioner valiantly tried to get me to make a statement without the presence of my lawyer. This time he told me if I just answered a few questions, I would be released. I refused and waited for legal assistance. Lawyer Claude Assira arrived and we began the audition.
Throughout our detention, Police Commissioner Gerard Essomba was called every 5 minutes by a certain “M. le Directeur”. He would respond “à vos ordres”(at your command). One of his superior officers who did not identify himself made at least 10 trips into the commissioner’s office whispering new orders. He appeared to be the messenger boy for “M. le Directeur”. Commissioner Essomba repeated to us at least 50 times “Je ne suis qu’un executant” (I am just following orders). Clearly this operation, like the two other arrests CPP members have been subject to in the last 6 weeks, was being piloted from very high up in the hierarchy.
At about 3:30 p.m. in came the Superior Officer-Messenger Boy. Though he was whispering it was clear he was asking that the audition be hurried through and that we be released. His visits had become more and more frequent and tinged with an air of frantic as the day went by. I believe Dear Friends that this is the direct result of your action on social media and traditional media, through diplomatic and other forms of pressure, within Cameroon and globally. What you do, is what puts pressure on them. It is what keeps us safe and eventually gets us released. Please do not tire.
At about 3:40 p.m. in mid-sentence, as I was answering the third question of the police (the ridiculousness of their questions is a story for another day), Commissioner Essomba interrupted me, informed us he had to leave and instructed that we be released.
Bergeline and Grace had just spent 3 ½ hours in police detention. They were never charged with anything. For me who had been charged, the police were now all of a sudden too busy to take my statement!! The degrees of absurdity grew exponentially as time went by. Now we were being rushed to take our things and leave. The police confiscated 46 Fridays in Black t-shirts, about 1,000 flyers on Fridays in Black, one large backdrop that says “Balayons Le Cameroun” and 5 brooms. Why? The Commissioner said he had received orders to do so.
A little after 4:00 p.m. the 3 of us were released as were our 12 other colleagues (more people had been arrested during the day) who were being detained in other locations. Incredibly, one of our party members had been arrested with her 9-year old son!!! When I asked him how he had been treated, he told me he had been scolded and told he would be separated from his mother. These people have lost all humanity.
We headed back to headquarters. As we sat to exchange and discuss the rather extraordinary happenings of the day, astonishingly we turned around to find Commissioner Moussa who had been a key actor of our previous arrest on Apri 8th and several police officers (GMI) standing inside our gate.
We looked at each other dumbfounded. I walked up to the Commissioner and asked why they were there. He responded that he did not have to tell me. Tempers flared. I informed him that he was violating private premises and had to leave immediately, he told me he would not. Next thing I knew this police commissioner grabbed one of our members by his shirt collar and accused him of having taken his picture. I could not believe my eyes. This was a police commissioner man-handling a citizen for no good reason! Naturally all our party members got up yelling and defending their colleague, some of them threatening to beat up the police. The police then called for reinforcements, put on riot gear and got ready for action. We informed them they would have to beat all of us and arrest all of us, but our colleague whom the police commissioner still had by the collar was going nowhere. After several minutes of a very physical stand-off, I was able to convince the commissioner this was getting us nowhere and that things could escalate to very undesirable proportions. He finally let our colleague go and they left our premises. It remains a mystery to us what they had come there to do.
It was a national day high in emotions, both positive and negative. Amazingly as we sat in a circle and each person spoke about what s/he had experienced during the day, the strongest emotions expressed were: reinforced courage and determination, an unshakeable love for Cameroon, a strengthened will to fight for our country.
Next Friday, we will be in black. Stand with us.