Below is the introductory statement of the Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary during a press briefing on February 15, 2017.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to wish you a warm welcome to this press briefing which I have invited you to update you on the judicial proceedings against some persons accused following the recent events in the South-West and North-West Regions.
As you know, the events that I just mentioned unfortunately resulted, in some places, in acts of violence or led to cases of violation of the law, that have been referred before the courts, to hold each and everyone liable.
As part of the legal action, 82 people were arrested, and 21 were subsequently released. Of the 61 persons still under detention, 31 are awaiting trial before the competent court, namely, the Yaoundé Military Court. It should be noted that among those awaiting trial, one of them is appearing freely.
Concerning the trial which was opened at the Yaoundé Military Court on last February 13, 2017, 27 people are involved in the proceedings, including NKONGHO Felix AGBOR BALLA and FONTEM AFORTEKA'A NEBA, leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, abbreviated as CACSC, whose existence had previously been declared null and void.
Those awaiting trial are prosecuted for the following charges: acts of terrorism, hostility against the fatherland, secession, revolution, insurgency, contempt of the President of the Republic, contempt of the constituted bodies and civil servants, group rebellion, civil war, dissemination of false news, apology for crimes.
To these main charges, we should envisage to add those that could eventually stem from their foreseeable consequences.
With special emphasis on charges of acts of terrorism, article 2 of Law No. 2014/2008 of 23 December 2014 on the suppression of acts of terrorism stipulates in its first paragraph that, I quote:
“Whoever, acting alone as an accomplice or accessory, commits or threatens to commit an act likely to cause death, endanger physical integrity, cause bodily injury or material damage, destroy natural resources, the environment or cultural heritage with intent to:
a. Intimidate the public, provoke a situation of terror or face the victim, the government and/or a national or international organization to carry out or refrain from carrying out an act, adopt or renounce a particular position;
b. Disrupt the national functioning of public services, the delivery of essential services to the public to create a crisis situation among the public;
c. Create widespread insurrection in the country” End of quote.
I should indicate that the charges which I have just quoted, as well as their foreseeable consequences, may have the same constituent elements. Therefore, it will be up to the court to establish the grounds on which the prosecution will actually take place.
In the light of these charges, it is evident that none of the defendants is prosecuted for the mere fact of having participated in a strike, having masterminded or participated in a peaceful demonstration, as it could unfortunately be heard here and there, especially through some foreign media.
I would like, in this regard, to recall what the Head of State, His Excellency Paul BIYA said, while addressing the Nation, in his traditional message to the youth on February 10, I quote: “As I have said before, every citizen has the right to express his opinion on any issue of national life and to take part in a peaceful strike. Conversely, it is unacceptable to use threats, intimidation or violence to compel anybody to heed a call for strike action. It is also unacceptable to hold the education and future of our children hostage, in the vain hope of pushing through political demands. While the right to strike is legitimate, the right to education is even more so. It is a fundamental right,” end of quote.
In any case, it should be indicated that each of the accused persons benefits from the presumption of innocence, which means that they remain innocent until the court establishes whether or not they are guilty at the end of the trial.
Let me also point out that during their current detention, these persons enjoy the right to defence, that is, the right to be assisted by their counsels, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.
They also enjoy access rights and access to health care.
With regard to the rights of the defence, the defendants are assisted by a hundred of lawyers, including lawyers registered in foreign bars.
Regarding the fact that the trial is taking place before the Yaoundé Military Court while the acts which have caused the prosecution were mainly committed in the North-West and South-West Regions, where there are also military courts, I should indicate here that, pursuant to Law No. 2008/015 of 29 December 2008 to organize military justice, the Yaoundé Military Court is a court of national jurisdiction, empowered to exercise its powers over the entire National territory in the event of serious threats to public order, State security and in case of acts of terrorism.
Moreover, the Yaoundé Military Court is not the only court entrusted with this kind of jurisdiction. For instance, the Yaoundé High Court has national jurisdiction in criminal matters, just like the Special Criminal Court with regard to serious cases of mismanagement of public funds valued at over fifty (50) million CFA francs.
The first hearing of the trial took place on Monday, February 13, 2017 in Yaoundé. At the end of the trial, the case was adjourned to March 23, 2017, for each party to produce and share its list of witnesses.
As far as witnesses are concerned, whether they appear as crown witnesses or defence witnesses, their protection is guaranteed in all matters by the law, including trials on acts of terrorism, in accordance with the provisions of section 10 of the Law of December 23, 2014 on the suppression of acts of terrorism, which stipulates that whoever assaults or threatens a witness, in implicitly, with violence, battery of death, shall be punished with life imprisonment.
I would also like to recall, as far as the suppression of acts of terrorism is concerned, that their apology is equally punishable and that it is characterized even if made by means of the media, the Internet, leaflets or by any other means intended to reach the public.
In the same way, and in accordance with the provisions of article 169 of the Penal Code relating to prejudicial comments, whoever refers publicly to any judicial proceeding not yet terminated by final judgment in a manner liable to influence, whether intentionally or not, the opinion of any person for or against any party, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to three months.
Where the offence is committed through the press, the custodial sentence can be up to two years, and the fine, up to five million CFA francs.
With regard to acts of terrorism, the law provides for a waiver from prosecution, for any natural or legal person who, after agreeing with another person to commit an act of terrorism and before the commencement of execution: of any natural or legal person who, having consulted with another person to commit an act of terrorism and before any commencement, reports to an administrative, judicial or military authority, helps stop the commission of the offence or helps to identify his or her co-offenders of accomplices.
Let me conclude by reminding each and everyone, of the freedom that everyone has to interpret a law, to take side for such litigants or for any such cause.
That is the reason why there are lawyers to defend different parties to the trial, crown witnesses as well as defence witnesses, and even that public opinion can defend a thesis or another from its point of view within the framework of a case handled by the judiciary.
However, the take-home message is that the enactment of laws is the responsibility of the Parliament on the one hand, and that its promulgation, which makes it enforceable in the national legal order is, according to our Constitution the jurisdiction of the President of the Republic, on the other hand.
As for the enforcement of this law, it is an exclusive prerogative of the courts.
That was, Distinguished Journalists, Ladies and gentlemen, the substance of the communication I had to deliver on behalf of the Government, at the current stage of the proceedings, to ensure a strong media attention.
Thank you for your kind attention.”