On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, Cameroon soldiers arrested over 40 commercial bike riders from Bamenda. The riders were in a convoy, accompanying the remains of a colleague of theirs who was killed in Bamenda. They were on their way to bury their slain colleague in Oku, a town in Bui Division of Northwest Region.
On their way, the bike riders were intercepted and arrested by BIR officers. They were separated into groups and carried to different detention centres. On their social media page Honneur et Fidélité Armée Camerounaise, the soldiers announced that they had arrested 40 “terrorists”.
The announcement by the military displayed over 40 images of the bikers. This was however, contradicted by most people who saw the faces and identified them as commercial bikers from Bamenda. Even the president of commercial bike riders in Bamenda, Hansel, who took it as a responsibility to follow up the case, has repeatedly said those arrested were his colleagues and none of them was a separatist fighter.
Days after the arrest and condemnation that followed, 24 of them who were presented at the military tribunal were ordered to be detained at the Bamenda prison. 16 of them, however, could not be produced, thus heightening fears of their whereabouts, but no explanation was ever provided. It was alleged that some may have been freed along the way, but no statement was ever issued about that.
On March 10, 2023, information came out that some of those arrested had been released. The President of the bikers confirmed that five of them were released.
Another source who has been following the case said, among the released was a rider who was initially taken among the 40, and was presumed missing. It was only until his release that it was learned that he was detained in Kumbo, several kilometres away from where he was arrested.
It is not known if others who are uncounted for are also kept in hidden or faraway detention sites.
The arrest of the bikers contravened several laws, both domestic and international. Article 31 of Cameroon’s Criminal Procedure Code mandates that — Except in cases of crime or flagrant misdemeanour, the person making the arrest must provide their identity, inform the person of the reason for the arrest and, if necessary, allow a third party to accompany the arrested person in order to ascertain their whereabouts. Instead the officers divided the arrested into groups and detained some of them in places no one knows till date.
Moreover, the excuse used by the officers that the bikers dressed and looked like “terrorists” is no bases to warrant an arrest, since they were not caught in any act of terrorism as was insinuated by the soldiers.
In a statement on the case when it happened, Human Rights Watch stated that, “Up to 17 of those detained are presumed forcibly disappeared, as their whereabouts is unknown, but they were last seen in military custody”.
“The soldiers selected those among us who had dreadlocks,” a bike rider who was later released told Human Rights Watch. “For them, this is an indication that you are an Amba boy (separatist fighter). They forced us to undress and beat us savagely with an iron hammer and with their belts,” one of those who were released earlier on told HRW.
It has been a year since the incident, and only five of the 40 arrested and 26 known to have been detained at the Bamenda Central Prison have been released. Others are still in prison with no credible charges and case against them.
This has frustrated several families who depended on the riders for daily subsistence. The riders have had their lives severely disrupted and, over a year, there is still no credible evidence brought forward to prove that they are separatist fighters as claimed by the soldiers who arrested and tortured them.
Even the procedure used by the soldiers after the arrest violated Article 9 (3) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,which prescribes that, “Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorised by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.
“It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.”
Some of those arrested, so far, have never been presented before a judge or charged, as no one knows where they are.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in its article 2 (2), frowns at torture, stating that, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
On the case of the bike riders, they were severely tortured by the BIR elements in the barracks.
In its article 4, the Convention prescribes: “Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture. (2). Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.”
Since the beginning of the Anglophone Crisis, several torture cases have been reported, but a case has hardly been brought against perpetrators.
Even in the Preamble of Cameroon’s 1996 Constitution, it is clearly stated that, “Every person has a right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances. Under no circumstances shall any person be subjected to torture, to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”
Also, Article 37 of Cameroon’s CPC directs that, “Any person arrested shall enjoy all reasonable facilities with a view to get in touch with his family, to set up a counsel, to find the means to defend themselves, to consult a doctor and receive medical care, and to take the necessary arrangements for the purpose of obtaining bail or his release. While most of these provisions were never respected, the conditions under which they are being detained do not provide proper healthcare, as well as feeding”.
By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE