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Cameroon Cuts Internet in English-speaking Regions

FILE - Soldiers clear a road in Bamenda, Cameroon, December 2016.
FILE - Soldiers clear a road in Bamenda, Cameroon, December 2016.

In Cameroon, internet connections appear to have been cut in the major towns of the country’s two English-speaking regions. The action comes as a months-long strike by local lawyers and teachers intensifies.

Agbor Gideon owns a shop that provides internet services to students and researchers at the University of Bamenda in the northwest region of Cameroon. He says his suppliers disconnected internet connection to his neighborhood Tuesday.

"They are stepping on our rights. They are stepping on the rights of the people to use internet because it blocks so many things," said Gideon. "There are people whose businesses are based on the internet so it is going to add to the hardship."

The northwest is one of two English speaking regions in Cameroon that has seen violent demonstrations and waves of arrests in recent months related to the strike by teachers and lawyers. Those professionals say the government is letting French sideline English in the bilingual country.

Bamenda Cameroon
Bamenda Cameroon

Secession calls

The strikers have been joined by other interests, some of whom are calling for the English-speaking regions to secede from Cameroon. The government says that is not an option.

Mobile phone companies have not issued any official statement about the internet cutoff. But agents have told worried users that the government is threatening to withdraw their licenses should they not suspend internet services to these two regions.

For now, no online money transfers and payments can be made.

The government has not commented on the internet issue. The communications minister warned in November, though, that a blackout was a possibility if social media was used to disseminate what he called anti-government propaganda related to the strike.

Official warnings

Authorities have been sending out warnings this week via SMS, which Libom Li Likeng, Cameroon's minister of post and telecommunications, says are part of a civic education campaign.

She says social media has become an important communications instrument, which unfortunately is used by people with evil intentions to propagate false information to threaten the public and create panic. She says the president ordered them to pass the message that the irresponsible use of social media is punishable by the law.

She says prison time of up to two years and fines of up to $4,000, or both, await offenders as per Cameroon's penal code.