YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - A military tribunal in Cameroon sentenced seven English speaking detainees to 10 to 15 years in prison in connection with unrest that has paralyzed business in the English speaking zones of the central African state.
Among them is radio host Mancho Bibixy, the leader of the so called coffin revolution, who used an open casket in street demonstrations calling for better conditions for the poor.
Bibixy was accused of threatening Cameroon’s sovereignty when he appeared in a coffin at a protest in the north western town of Bamenda in November 2016, saying his coffin was symbolic of anglophone Cameroonians who seemed to have died before their real death and who therefore should not fear speaking truth to power.
The suspects were arrested separately in 2016 and charged with conspiracy to terrorism, rebellion against the state, incitement of civil unrest, breach of the constitution, provoking civil war by inciting the people to take arms against each other, and propagation of false information.
Shortly after the verdicts were read, Tsi Conrad, one of the activists, demanded that the presiding judge announce their sentences and stop wasting time.
Bibixy said he had expected a death sentence and added that all English speaking detainees were threatened on a daily basis by prison workers.
The suspects were also ordered pay a fine of $500,000 as damages to the civil parties, including the state of Cameroon.
They will each also have to pay $10,000 or spend additional two years in jail.
Emmanuel Simh, one of the lead defense attorneys, said they would file an appeal.
Also among the activists is journalist Thomas Awah Junior who was given an 11-year jail term.
Some people are asking for a return to a federal state Cameroon had practiced for about a dozen years after its 1960 independence. Some are asking for the independence of the English speaking from the French speaking regions of Cameroon, but President Paul Biya has repeated on several occasions that national unity is not for negotiation.