February 24, 2017
The Law Society of Upper Canada* expresses grave concern about the arrest and detention of lawyer Felix Agbor Balla in Cameroon.
Felix Agbor Balla is a human rights lawyer with a long history of international and domestic human rights work, including service with both the United Nations and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is the president of the recently banned Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (“CACSC”), an organization which works to promote anglophone rights in primarily French-speaking Cameroon.
Since Cameroon’s independence, many anglophone Cameroonians have felt marginalized in a country where the majority of the population reads, writes and speaks French. Late last year, protests erupted against the use of French in courts, schools and universities. In Bamenda, the country’s largest anglophone city, at least four people were killed this past December when security forces fired live ammunition into the air and launched tear gas into a market despite there being no evidence that a protest was taking place.
It has been brought to the Law Society’s attention that on January 17, 2017, Felix Agbor Balla and CACSC Secretary General Fontem Neba were arrested after organizing “ghost towns” — stay-at-home protests against “oppression, marginalization, and deprivation”. Earlier that day, the Minister of Territorial Administration banned the activities of the CACSC. On January 24, 2017, the two men were officially charged with terrorism, rebellion against the state, incitement of civil unrest and breach of the constitution. Their trial, which was initially scheduled to begin on February 1, 2017, officially commenced before a military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon on February 13, 2017. At the hearing, Felix Agbor Balla and his colleague pleaded not guilty to the various charges brought against them. The trial was then adjourned to March 23, 2017, and it is expected that witnesses and evidence will be called at that time. If convicted, the two men could face the death penalty. Felix Agbor Balla and his colleague have remained in detention since their arrests.