Government probe after student’s alleged torture and death
Galax Yves Landry Etoga, the minister in charge of the national gendarmerie, has ordered the probe following the death of Ngule Linus Fontec, a fourth-year student at the University of Buea.
Barrister Amungwa Tanyi Nicodemus, the lawyer of the deceased student, said this development comes more than two months after Fontec, a student in the university’s department of international relations, was declared dead on 16 March 2023 while in military custody for alleged terrorist activities.
“We have waited for a long time for this authorisation to investigate the suspicious death of the student. The truth has to prevail,” he told journalists on 29 May.
According to media reports and the university authorities, Fontec and Mboh Giress, a sixth-year student, were taken into custody by SEMIL, a secret service agency of the Cameroonian army, during a raid by the military of the university’s residential area for students.
According to Professor Horace Ngomo Manga, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buea, the two students were apprehended by the forces of law and ordered to assist them in their investigation of some terrorist activities.
“Unfortunately, Linus Ngule died while in custody,” he said.
Allegations of torture
Human rights groups and the lawyer of the deceased student allege they were severely tortured by the military.
“There were signs of torture of both students, [which is the] reason why we requested an autopsy of the deceased,” said human rights lawyer Agbor Balla.
The University of Buea authorities, rights groups and lawyers have all been clamouring for access to and release of Fontec’s roommate.
“We had to write to the ministry of defence to receive the family of the deceased and to open up an investigation into the circumstances of his [Fontec’s] death,” Amungwa said.
A meeting involving the military, the family of the deceased and the legal representative was held. “We insisted on our desire to see light shed on the death of Linus,” Amungwa said.
According to Balla, since the Anglophone crisis started in 2016, students from the two universities in the English speaking regions, Buea and Bamenda, have been victims of torture and rape, arrest and illegal detention by the military who accuse them of communicating with separatists fighters.
“The abuses of university students during this crisis have been from both sides, the separatist fighters and the regular state army. We condemn these acts and have been calling on government to investigate and punish the perpetrators,” Agbor Balla said.
The abuses have continued to rise, according to a 2022 human rights group report.
The 2022 Human Rights Watch report says the conflict has witnessed some major human rights violations, including killings, torture, kidnappings, illegal arrests and detention.
Most of these incidents are believed to have remained unreported, especially the violations in remote areas where there is no mobile network, nor are there good roads or accessibility.
The group in their report published at least eight incidents with the aid of videos and pictures aimed at documenting abuses committed against civilians by both warring parties in the conflict and to promote human rights and peace.
It revealed verified reports by the above-mentioned parties pertaining to the excessive use of power by the security forces during the student protest at the University of Buea in 2020 leading to the arrest and detention of many.
Activists have called on the international community to intervene in the ongoing crisis and bring a lasting peace.
“We are appealing to the international community to step in and put a stop to the several killings going on in the two Anglophone regions,” said Akem Kelvin Nkwain, rights officer at the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, or CHRDA.
English-speaking students go to French-speaking universities
Akem said his life has been threatened several times by the state security for his outspokenness on the crisis and has equally appealed for genuine dialogue between the two fighting groups.
“Only genuine dialogue can bring lasting peace. This is what obtains in other conflicts around the world.”
Amnesty International has also called for dialogue to create an enabling environment for students to study in peace.
In a 2022 report, it called on the warring factions to down their tools and for the government to end threats against activists who expose violations and abuses in the Anglophone regions.
The alleged abuse of students appears to be forcing parents from the English-speaking regions in the country to rather send their children to French-speaking universities for safety reasons because of the security situation in English-speaking regions.
“We are having an influx of English-speaking students in universities in Francophone regions for security reasons. They are bound to cope with the language challenges,” said Dr Essambe Livinus Njume, a lecturer at the University of Yaoundé 1.
The recent incident in the University of Buea is not the first case of student arrest by the military that ended in death while in detention.
In 2020, Human Rights Watch also reported similar cases at the University of Bamenda.
Activists hope the Buea investigation will come up with the truth and the criminals sanctioned. “We look forward to knowing exactly what happened and hope the criminals will face the law,” Balla said.