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Cameroon: New Law on Repression of Terrorism Passed

(Dec 18, 2014) Cameroon’s legislature has passed new anti-terrorism legislation that includes the death penalty for citizens who, either as individuals or in a group, carry out, abet, or sponsor terrorism. The legislation will now be considered by President Paul Biya for promulgation into law. (Ngala Killian Chimtom, Cameroon’s Anti-Terrorism Law – Reversal of Human Freedoms, INTER PRESS SERVICE (Dec. 5, 2014); Disproportionate Penalties for Media in Cameroon’s Anti-Terrorism Law, Reporters Without Borders website (Dec. 18, 2014).)

The law specifies that terrorist crimes are the taking of action likely to cause death; to endanger or damage the physical integrity of another; or to do damage to the nation’s natural resources, environment, or cultural heritage, when done with the intent of:

a) intimidating the population, provoking a situation of terror or forcing the victim, the government and/or an organization, national or international[,] to accomplish or abstain from accomplishing any act whatsoever, to adopt or renounce a particular position, or to act according to certain principles;
b) disturbing the normal functioning of the public services, the provision of essential services to the population, or creating a situation of crisis within the population;
c) creating a general uprising in the country. (Cameroon Government Clarifies Position on New Terrorist Repression Law, OPEN SOURCE CENTER (Dec. 9, 2014), Foreign Broadcast Information Service online subscription database, Doc. No. AFL2014120940742115, quoting art. 2. ¶ 1.)

The new law also imposes capital punishment on anyone who, for the same motives as stated above:

a) provides or makes use of arms and war materials;
b) provides or makes use of micro-organisms or any other biological agent, especially viruses, mushroom clouds, or toxins;
c) provides or uses chemical, psychotropic, radioactive, or hypnotizing agents; or
d) takes hostages. (Id. art. 2 ¶ 2.)

If these actions are taken against animals or plants, the perpetrator is subject to a punishment of life in prison. (Id. ¶ 3.)

Criticism of the New Legislation

The new anti-terrorism law has become a topic of concern among some political leaders and civil society groups inside the country and internationally. Joseph Banadzem, a member of the parliament from the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), expressed the fear that the government could use the law to suppress dissent and control the media. As now written, the new law would require journalists to submit stories for government approval before publication. The SDF also suggests that the measures could increase public disorder and tension. Banadzem added that while the opposition supports the fight against terrorism, it is concerned that the law would permit the administration to criminalize opponents of the regime. Commenting on the demonstration held by civil society groups in Yaoundé on December 5, he said “[t]he population is very irritated about it and they are calling us every day and they are saying that if the president signs it, it could lead to some public disorder.” (Peter Clottey, Cameroon Opposition ‘Concerned’ over Anti-Terrorism Bill, VOICE OF AMERICA (Dec. 10, 2014).)

Kah Wallah, the leader of the Cameroon People’s Party. also criticized the legislation, stating “[t]his [anti-terrorism] law is manifestly against the fundamental liberties and rights of the Cameroonian people … . In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government’s real intent is to stifle political dissent.” (Chimtom, supra.) She added that “the government is taking us back to the worst days of the most barbaric dictatorship … .” (Id.)

The international freedom of the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the new legislation, calling on Biya to reject the law because it has “provisions that would have a disastrous impact on freedom of information if implemented in a heavy-handed manner.” (Disproportionate Penalties for Media in Cameroon’s Anti-Terrorism Law, supra.)

Government Response to Criticisms

Justice Minister Laurent Esso has supported the law, stating that “Cameroon will never be complicit to those whose only agenda is to cause mayhem and destabilise the normal functioning of the state.” (Chimtom, supra.) The administration argues that the new measures are necessary due to the fight in the northern part of Cameroon against raids across the border from Boko Haram, a militant group based in the neighboring country of Nigeria. Thousands of Cameroonian troops have been deployed in the border region, at great cost both in human lives and economic resources. (Id.)

The government has further said that many of the criticisms are “false allegations” and compared the legislation to the United States’ Patriot Act, adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks. (Cameroon Government Clarifies Position on New Terrorist Repression Law, supra; Patriot Act, Pub. L. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272 (2001), Government Publishing Office website.) It also argued that the law is needed to meet Cameroon’s obligations under the international agreements to which the nation is a party. Specifically, in a statement to the press, the Ministry of Communications suggested that domestic legislation was necessary to meet Cameroon’s anti-terrorism obligations as a member of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). (Cameroon Government Clarifies Position on New Terrorist Repression Law, supra; for information on the Community, see Communauté économique et monétaire de l’Afrique central, CEMAC website (last visited Dec. 17, 2014).)