Father Paul Njokikang, the director of Caritas in Cameroon, has been released from detention. Yesterday, Independent Catholic News reported his arrest following Mass on Sunday. He was held by Cameroonian security services at a military base, and freed on Monday night.
It is believed that the Yaounde regime of President Paul Biya came under sustained pressure from the Catholic church both in Cameroon and further afield. On Monday, ICN's article was sent to the papal nuncio in London and Ottawa.
One British Cameroonian activist (requesting anonymity for his own safety) commented, "The pressure on Biya's regime was just too much." He thanks ICN for its role in securing Father Paul's release.
Father Paul came to international attention last May when he addressed the United Nations in New York. He described the deteriorating security situation in Cameroon's Anglophone region, saying that the heavy-handed actions of the security services had provoked an extreme response from some English-speaking activists. He reported on the widespread destruction of schools and hospitals by Anglophone separatists who demand their region becomes a new country called Ambazonia. He also told of the disproportionately violent response of Cameroonian security services, leaving more than 3,000 dead and 530,000 displaced.
Regarded as a moderate voice, Father Paul urged the Biya regime to engage in genuine and inclusive dialogue to stop the polarisation of attitudes in the region. Although Yaounde held a national dialogue recently, many Anglophone Cameroonians criticised it for being a publicity stunt aimed at pacifying foreign criticism of the regime.
While the Cameroonian Diaspora in the UK has welcomed Father Paul's release, its members remain concerned about the fate of hundreds of non-violent Anglophone activists being held in jail, some without charge or access to lawyers.
Among those detained is the academic, Abdul Karim Ali, an outspoken critic of the Biya regime who was arrested on September 25th. He had just returned from Switzerland where the Swiss authorities are attempting to start negotiations between the Cameroonian government and Ambazonian separatists and other Anglophone civil society groups. Abdul Karim Ali is on hunger strike at SED prison (the State Defence Secretariat) in Yaounde. He is charged with secession, funding terrorism and terrorism. Human Rights Watch has previously documented the widespread use of torture at SED.
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