YAOUNDE (Reuters) - A Cameroonian military court on Wednesday threw out a request for bail for three English-speaking activists who could face the death penalty for taking part in a protest against the government of President Paul Biya.
The case has stoked opposition to Biya and widened divisions between majority French-speaking and smaller Anglophone populations, the legacy of Cameroon’s unique history of being carved up between British and French colonists a century ago.
Anglophone Cameroonians took to the streets late last year demanding equal treatment. Authorities responded by shooting dead at least six people, arresting hundreds and cutting off the region’s Internet for three months.
The three political activists - Felix Agbor Balla, Fontem Aforteka’a Neba and Mancho Bibixy - pleaded not guilty in February to charges including complicity in hostility against the homeland, secession, civil war, and campaigning for federalism.
They are being held under anti-terrorism laws enacted as part of the battle against Islamist Boko Haram militants in the north.
“The defense request to allow the accused to be freed on bail has no basis,” Judge Abega Mbezoa said at the hearing.
Rights groups have raised concerns about increasing repression under the 35-year-old rule of President Biya. Last month security forces prevented a news conference by Amnesty International that had been called to demand the release of three young men jailed in 2015 for sharing a joke.
At the end of World War One, the League of Nations divided the former German colony of Kamerun between the allied French and British victors. At independence in 1960, English-speaking voters opted to join Cameroon rather than neighboring Nigeria, but they have since complained of being marginalized.
Additional reporting by Joel Kouam in Douala; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Roche