A military court convicted the 89 people of terror charges for allegedly participating in several attacks in Cameroon's northern region, which borders Nigeria.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Cameroon in Boko Haram attacks in the past year. In 2014 Cameroon passed an anti-terror law, which introduced the death sentence for recruiters, as well as perpetrators of attacks. This law has however been condemned by rights groups, including Amnesty International.
“The anti-terror law not only provides for the death sentence but also contains a very broad definition of terrorism, which could be used to criminalize political dissent and other actions that are not terrorism”, said Ilaria Allegrozzi, the lead regional researcher for Amnesty International. “Moreover, judging people before military courts infringes on their right to an independent and impartial trial.”
This is the first time the death sentence has been issued under the 2014 law. More sentences may soon be handed out, however, as there are currently more than 850 people in Cameroon who have been arrested on charges of links to Boko Haram.
The Cameroonian government says those sentenced will not have the possibility of appeal.
Cameroon is not the first country to sentence suspected Boko Haram members to death. Neighbouring Chad sentenced ten people to death in August of last year.
Security analyst David Otto thinks that the death sentences will only deepen the cycle of violence.
“The modus operandi of Boko Haram is to coerce, kidnap, force and drug people to get them to join the group,” Otto told RFI. “So we need to consider each person and their circumstances. If young people are executed for being members of Boko Haram, but their families know that they were kidnapped, well, that kind of thing leads people into the arms of Boko Haram.”
Otto also said these sentences may spark retaliatory acts. While Boko Haram operations have thus far been limited to the restive north of the country, he worries that they could start happening farther south. According to Amnesty International, there is a Boko Haram attack every three days in northern Cameroon.
But they are not the only perpetrators of violence. In a report, Amnesty International also condemned the violence carried out by Cameroonian security forces in the same region. In neighbouring Nigeria, rights groups have denounced the extra-judicial killings of suspected Boko Haram members.