Anti-government demonstrators block a road in Bamenda, Cameroon, December 8, 2016.
Anti-government demonstrators block a road in Bamenda, Cameroon, December 8, 2016.

YAOUNDE/BAMENDA, CAMEROON - A military tribunal in Cameroon has denied bail to two civil society leaders accused of directing violent unrest in the northwest and the southwest in December. They are among the more than two dozen people still detained in connection to the ongoing strike in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. Calls for their release continue to drive unrest and remain the key roadblock to dialogue as the strike enters its seventh month.

It was quiet at the Mbingo Baptist hospital in northwestern Cameroon despite the hundreds of people who have come out to sympathize with Chatelle Anyerre.

The 17-year-old was brutally attacked Monday, June 5. She was on her way to school with two of her peers when the machete-wielding assailants pounced. The attackers have not been identified.

The surgeon, Jim Brown, had good news. "The injuries required some washing out the wounds and there were some muscles that had to be repaired, and also some fractures and bones that had to be set. She is doing fine, she is very stable,” he said.

It is believed Anyerre was targeted because she was defying calls to boycott classes as part of the ongoing strike in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. Most schools remain shut in those areas.

The government say strikers have resorted to violence to press for the unconditional release of people detained over the strike. VOA could not reach strike leaders for comment as many are detained or in hiding.

Authorities have condemned what they say have been a series of arson attacks on government buildings and markets in the English-speaking areas this year.

A crowd assembled here at Nkwen in the northwestern capital of Bamenda last Monday after a four-story hotel went up in flames.

"We had to call the fire brigade and thank God they came on time. We don't know as of now. We don't know any cause that might have caused the fire to explode," said Ngom Angelbert, a hotel worker.

He said they suspect the act was carried out because the business did not respect calls for citywide shutdown days to protest the continued detention of the strike leaders. He said an investigation into the fire is underway.

In Yaounde, 27 people arrested over the strike appeared again Wednesday before a military tribunal. Chief judge, Colonel Abega Mbezoa Eko Eko, presided.

On May 30th, the judge had said the two detained leaders — Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba — would be granted what the judge called “controlled freedom.” But no bail was granted Wednesday.

The prosecution argued that people facing terrorism-related charges punishable by a possible death sentence cannot be granted conditional release.

Following the proceedings, the judge took no questions from the media. Soldiers prevented the defense counsel from granting interviews at the court premises.

Strikers have refused to reopen dialogue with the government until the detainees are freed.

Lawmaker Elias Ijalle from Manyu in southwestern Cameroon said the continued unrest is counterproductive for both sides.
"Young men are getting into the street and destroying existing infrastructure and it is unfortunate. It is a regrettable situation that we condemn in all its forms because whatever form of state we have in this country or whatever form of state we are going to have in the future will require structures like that for children to go to school. So it can't be possible that the few we have are being destroyed," said Ijalle.

The strike began in November with anglophone teachers and lawyers in the northwest and the southeast. They said English-speaking citizens are marginalized in the bilingual country and they demanded reforms. But secessionist groups soon joined the movement, and their calls for full independence for the English-speaking zones derailed dialogue and helped spur a government crackdown.