“All of them are doing very well, all of them are in very good health, all of them are enjoying whatever is enshrined in our constitution,” said Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon’s government spokesperson.
The separatists, including Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, leader of the self-proclaimed interim government of Ambazonia, were arrested in Nigeria at the start of January. A group of 47 Anglophones was then transferred to Yaoundé through a legally questionable extradition process.
“They’re enjoying all of their rights,” said Bakary, in a telephone interview. “When all the investigations are completed, they will be charged and brought to book,” the information minister added.
Q&A: Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon's information minister
Bakary said he had no idea what charges the separatists would face, but suggested the Anglophones could face a military tribunal.
The government previously described the 47 separatists as “terrorists” when they were forcibly deported by the Nigerian government at the end of January.
“They’re engineering, they’re masterminding all what is taking place in the country – assassinations, burning public institutions – you cannot imagine the kind of ordeal our population are submitted to in the northwest and southwest, and they are at the helm,” said Bakary.
The self-proclaimed interim government of Ambazonia is worried because their leader and other members of the group have not been given access to a lawyer, nor have family members been able to visit them.
“Nobody knows whether they’re alive – they’ve not been seen for three months since they were abducted and then transferred to Cameroon,” Chris Anu, a spokesperson for the self-declared interim government.
Anu said they have hired lawyers to represent the detained Anglophones, but the lawyers have been unable to visit them. Neither have family members been able to see or talk to them.
“We do not know any facility in which they’re being held,” said Anu, in a telephone interview from the US. “The burden is theirs to prove that they’re terrorists,” he added, referring to the lack of any formal charges brought by the Cameroonian government.
Q&A: Chris Anu, spokesperson, self-declared interim government of Ambazonia
“The international community has rejected the fate of these guys who were abducted and allowed to languish in detention without any trial or charges,” said the separatist spokesperson. “Why can’t they take them to court and prove the charges of terrorism.”
The self-declared independent body blames the Cameroonian government for the ongoing crisis in the northwest and southwest of the country.
“If there are acts of terrorism or if there are any terrorists in Cameroon, it is the Cameroon government and its soldiers,” said Anu. “You have probably read reports of the Cameroon government razing whole towns or villages,” he added.
International human rights groups have also voiced concerns about the fate of the Anglophone separatists three months after their original arrest.
“Those extradited should not be allowed to simply vanish without a trace,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, a researcher for Amnesty International, told RFI.
“Cameroonian authorities need to shed light on the whereabouts and health of those who have been extradited from Nigeria to Cameroon, in January 2018, including 10 leaders of the independence movement in the Anglophone regions,” Allegrozzi said.
“By holding those people in secret, without any charge, the Cameroonian authorities are failing to respect both national and international law,” the Amnesty researcher said in emailed comments. “They should immediately allow them to have access to lawyers, families and provide medical care to those who need it.”
Ayuk Tabe had been leading a campaign for the creation of a separate English-speaking entity apart from the Francophone administration in Yaoundé.
Tensions in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have heightened over recent months. The crisis began with protests over perceived marginalisation of Anglophones by the Francophone majority. The government responded with a crackdown including curfews, raids and restrictions on travel. More recently armed separatists groups have launched attacks against Cameroonian security forces.