Responding to the news that a request to release 23 protesters from detention, all of whom were convicted for participating in a September 2020 protest in Douala, including Dorgelesse Nguessan, a 37-year-old single mother, has been rejected by the High Court of Wouri, Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said:
“We are deeply disappointed that the authorities have failed to recognize the arbitrary nature of the ongoing detention of these protestors. Arresting and imprisoning people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly is an arbitrary act and fails to meet Cameroon’s obligations under international human rights law.”
“These 23 protestors have not committed a single crime and should be immediately and unconditionally released. All others detained in the country for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly must also be freed.”
In September 2020, over 500 people were arrested for participating in protests organized by the opposition party ‘Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon’ (MRC).
Dorgelesse Nguessan, a 37-year-old single mother and hairdresser, was among those arrested. She had never been politically active yet joined the MRC-organized protest in Douala having grown concerned about Cameroon’s economy and other issues. After spending a week in detention in an overcrowded cell in a police station, she was transferred to the central prison in Douala. She was charged with “insurrection” and “public demonstrations”, among other charges, before being sentenced to five years in prison by a military court on 7 December 2021.
As Dorgelesse was convicted simply for exercising her right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International has denounced the arbitrary nature of her detention, and also called for her immediate and unconditional release in a campaign in January 2022. Her situation also featured among 10 cases profiled in this year’s Write For Rights campaign.
On 4 November 2022, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion, which found that the detention of 15 MRC activists who had participated in demonstrations in either January 2019 or September 2020 was completely arbitrary.
Lawyers representing the 23 people sentenced for their participation in the September 2020 protests in Douala used the Working Group’s opinion as a basis for submitting ‘habeas corpus’ requests for their immediate release on 8 December 2022. On 25 January, the judge rejected the request for immediate release of the 23 people.
However, an appeal hearing will take place on 16 March 2023 to rule on Dorgelesse Nguessan’s lawyer’s request challenging the first instance verdict convicting their client, a different process from this habeas corpus application.