The government of Cameroon on April 20, 2017 restored internet services to the North-west and South-west, the two Anglophone regions of the country, 94 days after it ordered the shutdown. The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, on the orders of President Paul Biya, restored internet connection to the people of the two regions after the three months of network disruption.
The government had on January 17, 2017 ordered the shutdown of Internet service to the two regions following protests by lawyers, teachers and other residents in these regions who alleged marginalization and agitated for better treatment from the French-speaking government after government’s imposition of the use of French language in schools and courts in the English-speaking provinces.
In addition to internet shutdown, the government banned the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), accusing them of being responsible for the protests. Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla and Dr. Fontem Neba, President and Secretary General of CACSC were arrested, detained and charged with offence of to terrorism.
Welcoming the restoration of internet connectivity to the two regions, the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) urged the government to release all those who were arrested and arbitrarily detained.
AFEX also called on the Cameroonian government to take a further step by committing to promoting and protecting digital rights as network disruptions adversely affect people socially, psychologically, economically, educationally and politically. It disclosed that for the 94 days of internet shutdown, about 7 million citizens were deprived of access to information which resulted in the loss of about US$4.5 million in a country with a per capita income of about $1,200.
AFEX had on April 13, 2017 petitioned the African Union (AU), through its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Ms. Faith Pansy Tlakula, asking it to intervene in the deteriorating freedom of expression and human rights situation in the North-west and South-west regions and a week later, internet services were restored to the regions.
Several calls were initially made to President Biya by local and international communities, yet the government refused to restore internet access or release those arrested in connection with the protests.
The AFEX network therefore called on the AU Special Rapporteur to put pressure on President Paul Biya to heed the numerous calls by the international community and ensure that the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of assembly of citizens are respected and protected in Cameroon.
By the preamble of Cameroon’s National Constitution, the government is committed itself to respecting regional and international frameworks which provide for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights. Specifically, the constitution subscribes to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter, all of which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and access to information.