Some 120 common law and civil law lawyers were present in court on February 13, 2017 to defend their colleague
Barrister Felix Agbor Kongho, President of the banned Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, Dr. Fontem Neba, the consortiums Secretary General and activist Mancho Bibixy appeared before the military tribunal for the first time on February 13, since their arrest on January 17. Their defense counsel consisted of a group of 120 lawyers of both the Common Law and Civil Law subsystems. They were led by former Bar Council President’s including Barrister Benard Muna, Barrister Mouthe, Barrister Eta Bisong Jr and Barrister Ntumfor Nico Halle, President of the Cameroon Bar Association.
During the opening of the case, the lead counsel for the defendants, Barrister Ben Muna opposed the reading of the charges in the French language. This sparked a commotion which only worsened when a translator attempted to solve the problem by presenting the charges in what sounded like broken English. It however corroborated common law lawyers’ arguments that citizens arrested in English-speaking regions of Cameroon should be tried in the said regions and vice versa.
All the accused pleaded “not guilty” to all the charges levied against them and the hearing was adjourned to March 23rd, for the constitution of lists of witnesses. The protest leaders were charged with treason, rebellion, terrorism, unlawful assembly among others. The trial was initially scheduled to begin on February 3, but it was adjourned without due cause, according to the defense lawyers.
It should be recalled that since a lawyers and teachers strike late last year led to the creation of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, following a general outcry against a perceived marginalization prompted by the strikes. The consortium, in its various press releases and briefings, has often called for peaceful demonstrations. Its president is equally been seen in recorded videos vehemently condemning the use of violence and hate speech in the ongoing protests.
Nevertheless, several overexcited irate youths are said to have carried out acts of violence, clashing with security forces during ghost towns days, which days were initiated by the consortium. At least 10 people have been shot dead in the protests and government is still mute as regards the identities and possible trial of security officers who shot at unarmed civilians.