H.E. Mr. Paul Biya
President of the Republic
PO Box 1000 Yaounde
Tel : (237) 2 221 45 75 or (237) 2 220 31 92 or
(237) 2 220 13 44 or
Email : [email protected]
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human rights defender and Freelance journalist.
On 21 January 2016, the Court of First Instance of Mundemba sentenced environmental rights defender Mr Nasako Besingi to either pay a fine of 344,400 CFA Francs (approximately €524) or serve one year imprisonment. This is the second time in the past three months that the human rights defender has been sentenced in connection with his peaceful human rights work in Cameroon.
Nasako Besingi is an environmental rights defender and the director of Struggle to Economize the Future Environment – SEFE, a NGO based in the village of Mundemba, which has asserted the land rights of local communities in the context of the development of palm oil plantations by the American agribusiness company Herakles Farms. In 2013, the company was given authorisation to operate in protected areas and territories occupied both currently and historically by local communities. Prior to this, the company had conducted palm oil activities in Herakles for almost three years without the necessary land lease required by Cameroonian law.
The human rights defender was convicted on 21 January 2016, on charges of conducting unlawful assemblies, and organising and inciting protests. The charges were based on allegations made against him by Herakles Farms in November 2014, following a demonstration organised by Nasako Besingi, in which he distributed t-shirts displaying the quote “No plantation on our land. Herakles farms out!”.
Nasako Besingi has previously been subjected to judicial harassment in connection with his human rights work. On 3 November 2015, he was convicted on defamation charges brought against him on the basis of claims by Herakles Farms that an article the human rights defender had published caused injury to the company. In the article in question, the human rights defender reported a violent attack he had suffered in 2012, in which he recognised the assailants as employees of Herakles Farms. The human rights defender was ordered to pay a fine of 1 million CFA Francs (approximately €1,500) or face 3 years’ imprisonment. An appeal was lodged by lawyers for the human rights defender, and a decision awaits to be made.
I strongly condemn the judicial harassment of Nasako Besingi, which I believe to be directly linked to his peaceful work for the rights of local communities in Cameroon. I call on the authorities of Cameroon to reverse the sentences against him, and ensure that the human rights defender is able to conduct his legitimate and peaceful human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.
I urge the authorities in Cameroon to:
1. Ensure that the convictions of Mr. Nasako Besingi be overturned, and the arbitrary charges against him dropped;
2. Cease any further judicial harassment of Nasako Besingi;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Cameroon are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Defender & Freelance Journalist
Email: [email protected]