Kidnapped Catholic Church Officials Released After 35 Days In Captivity

Some five priests, a nun, a catechist, a cook and a teenager who were kidnapped by an armed group operating in Mamfe have been released by their captors. The nine persons were freed on October 22 after spending over a month in captivity, as their captors demanded a heavy ransom in exchange for them.

In a video made when the concerned were freed, one of them, a priest, is shown stating that they are thanking “the freedom fighters of Ambazonia for releasing us without any ransom paid, and for their hospitality”.

However, since the abduction of the nine people, no tangible reason has been advanced for the act, or an accusation made against them. When the incident happened, a lot of fingers were pointed at separatist fighters, but a group named Ambazonia People’s Liberation Council to which many separatist fighters affiliate distanced itself from the act, saying that it was done to discredit them.

In an interview with the BBC, Bamenda Archbishop, His Grace Andrew Nkea, said the kidnappers had introduced themselves as Amba fighters. However, he said it was difficult to authenticate whether they were really separatist fighters, or just using the name and cover.

On the issue of ransom, the Prelate said they were demanding over FCFA 60 million, and that, though they later requested about FCFA 30 million, the church was not going to pay a franc, because they are not willing to set a precedence that they can’t keep up with.

Before the kidnapping of the officials and Christians, the gunmen burned down a church, St Mary Catholic Church, in Nchang village under Mamfe Diocese.

On October 19, 2022, a video emerged on social media, apparently done and released by the captors of the religious people, in which the kidnapped were seen calling on the church leaders in the Mamfe Diocese to comply with the kidnappers and do as they asked, because their lives depended on it.

From the video in which Rev. Fr. Cornelius Jingwa is talking about their plight, the captives appear in bad shape.

Some had swollen eyes and faces suggesting that they might have been tortured. They were shown sitting barefooted on a wet place. What could pass for a shelter in a place where they were held, looked like a farm house constructed with sticks and covered with plastics papers. The priest, in the video, said they were in a very bad state and were not fine at all.

The act by the gunmen and the failure by the various stakeholders constituted a violation of several human rights accorded the kidnapped.

By dint of article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the State has the duty to respect the rights of all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the guarantee of their safety from acts like abduction.

The State of Cameroon, therefore, failed the victims, as it was unable to protect them from the kidnappers.

TheAfrican Charter on Human and People’s Rights, in itsArticle 5, says: “Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.

Thisright was robbed from the kidnapped people who were treated in a degrading and cruel manner, and stripped off their dignity for no justifiable reason. 

Also, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its Article 3, states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. 

It furthers that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The kidnappers stripped their victims of their right to liberty, and placed them under torturous circumstances for seemingly no reason, than want of a ransom to be paid in exchange for their freedom or life.

In a statement appreciating their release and condemning their abduction, Mark Bareta, a separatist activist based in the UK, said: “They shouldn’t have been kidnapped in the first place and kept for that long. It is wrong in all spheres”.

He said, though they claimed, in a video, that no ransom was paid, it was not the case. He urged the fighters who now operate under a council on the ground to investigate and name the culprits. According to him, though there are groups carrying out such acts to discredit separatists, some separatists too are into such excesses.

In a statement on the issue, CHRDA said, “the arson of St Mary Catholic Church Nchang and the abduction of five priests, a reverend sister and two Christian faithful is unacceptable”.

By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE

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