The leaders of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Ambazonia" denied Cameroonian nationality in Thursday's hearing, claiming they are Ambazonian.
The terrorism trial against 10 leaders of the anglophone secession movement, who have been charged with 10 counts under Cameroon's anti-terrorism law, was delayed to Jan. 10, 2019 Thursday. If convicted, they could face the death penalty over what they argue is their struggle for an independent state they wish to call Ambazonia.
"The lead council for the defense raised a preliminary objection," a lawyer present at the hearing told teleSUR. ''The law provides that the list of witnesses must be served to the accused persons five days before the hearing begins." However, he added, the list was provided less than 24 hours beforehand.
After an hour to two hour-long suspension, the court said the argument was unfounded because debates had not yet been opened in the hearing. After a heated back-and-firth between the two sides, the court adjourned the matter, according to the lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
During the trial, the 10 leaders of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Ambazonia" renounced their Cameroonian identity, according to a trusted source.
The accusations brought against them include committing acts of terrorism, advocating terrorism, secession, civil war, and revolution, lawyer Christopher Ndong told Reuters after the charges were read out at the military court in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde last month.
The charges stem from an anti-terrorism law that was recently approved by Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 36 years and just won this year's presidential election.
“Civilians can be prosecuted with this law, and this was a law against Boko Haram that was passed, I think, three years ago. So this law is now being used against civilians, journalists, activists,” Cameroonian journalist Peter Tah told teleSUR English.
Using the hashtag #Justice4Nera10, human rights activist Barrister Nalowa Bih has been campaigning for the release of the 10 leaders who were extradited from Nigeria on Jan. 5.
#Ambazonians c their President after a long time only in pictures. President Ayuk Tabe Julius dressed in manyu regalia.We are elevated n more determined to give #Biya n his barbaric army nightmare.#Justice4Nera10 @LeahHardingAJE @hrw @apocsnet @John_Chichester pic.twitter.com/0fx4m6FGub— Justice4Nera10 (@JNera10) December 6, 2018
Nera refers to the hotel in Nigeria from which the secessionist leaders were abducted by Cameroonian forces. Some of those who were taken into custody have Nigerian citizenship while others were seeking asylum. They have since been detained for over 300 days.
“Their rights have been systematically violated and the government of Cameroon has refused to hear their demands,” Nalowa told teleSUR.
The leaders appeared in court for the first time on Nov. 1. Peter Tah explained this sparked hope for the movement because many people had believed rumors that the men had been killed by the government.
“Their appearance in court kind of emboldened the secessionist movement that is now using it as kind of a motivating factor to say look our leaders are still alive and we have every reason to fight and to seek our independence from the French-majority government,” Tah told teleSUR.
Members of the movement to form an independent state of Ambazonia do not consider themselves secessionists nor separatists.
“The Ambazonia Liberation movement is not a movement for secessionists or separationists,” Bih said. “We are restorationists. You restore what you had and you can only separate something that was once one. We have never been one with the Republic of Cameroon. Our statehood was stolen from us by the United Nations in collaboration with France and Great Britain.”
Cameroon is divided by Anglophone (English-speaking) and Francophone (French-speaking) regions. The English-speaking minority, who make up 20 percent of the population, are based largely in the southwest. Many English speakers accuse the predominantly French-speaking government of discrimination.
The country's southwest, where separatists are fighting to secure territory for the independent state of Ambazonia, has been in a crisis for two years. In 2016, lawyers and teachers took to the streets to protest for more English language representation in courts and schools, respectively. The government cracked down on those protests, prompting insurgents to react in an uprising. They clashed violently with government forces since.
Last year, the group took up arms on Sept. 26 and again on Oct. 1 when they declared a symbolic independence from Cameroon. Security forces killed 40 people in September during a crackdown on protests. In November that same year, separatists killed at least six security officers.