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African gov’ts warned to stop persecuting human rights defenders

Barrister Agbor (sheet of paper in hand) flanked by Dr. Fontem (L) and Tassang Wilfred (R), all labelled "terrorists" for standing up to injustice (c) All rights reserved

Amnesty International has warned African governments to stop the onslaught of attacks against brave individuals who stand up to injustice.

The call was made recently in the group’s new global campaign dubbed “Brave” which states that human rights defenders, journalists and protesters in West and Central Africa are facing higher levels of persecution, intimidation and violence.

The ‘Brave’ campaign calls on states in the regions to recognise the legitimacy of human rights defenders by respecting their work, giving space for it and protecting them from threats. It equally exhorted states to take concrete measures to achieve these aims by adopting strong protection laws and repealing laws used to target human rights defenders.

“States across the region have deployed a broad and increasingly inventive range of tactics to stop people standing up against injustice and to coerce them into self-censorship, “said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“By removing the right to protest, placing activists under surveillance, and intimidating them with threats and physical attacks, many governments are carrying out a full-frontal assault on human rights defenders.” Alioune Tine continued.

Going by the human rights group, people participating in peaceful protests have been repressed by the use of excessive force against protesters in almost every country in West and Central Africa.

The group cites several states like Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo which have introduced legislation which could be used to target human rights defenders, journalists and whistle-blowers in reprisal for their work, often in the name of countering terrorism and cybercrime.
In Cameroon, anti-terror legislation originally introduced to respond to the security threat from Boko Haram, was used to silence civil society leaders in the English speaking regions who called for protests against discrimination.

For Alioune Tine, “Human rights defenders are not enemies of the state; they are individuals who stand against injustice and take peaceful action to improve the human rights situation. Without their courage, our world is less fair, less just and less equal,”

The rights group also criticise governments’ restrictions on the use of the internet, citing internet shutdown in Anglophone Cameroon from January to April 2017 following protests on the use of French in courts and schools and demands for greater autonomy.

In the end, Amnesty International urged authorities in West and Central Africa to refrain from using language that disparages human rights defenders, by labelling them “criminals”, “foreign agents”, “terrorists”, or “undesirables”.

“When they are not threatening or harassing them, governments are attempting to cultivate open hostility towards human rights defenders by peddling demonising rhetoric that portrays activists as threats to national security,”

“The campaign is a tribute to the brave men and women across the region that in spite of this continuing repression, they continue to fight for justice. We call on states to recognise and protect the legitimate work of those standing up for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people.” said Alioune Tine

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