May 13, 2020

NEW YORK (May 12, 2020) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the regime of Cameroon’s dictator Paul Biya for orchestrating last week’s dismissal of human rights lawyer Felix Agbor Nkongho from the University of Buea, in retaliation for his activism in defense of the rights of Cameroon’s Anglophone minority.

Agbor Nkongho (also known as Agbor-Balla) spoke at the 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum, where he explained the roots of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis and advocated for peaceful partnerships across the Anglophone-Francophone divide. Agbor-Balla is the founder of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, an organization that has been documenting human rights violations in the ongoing crisis and representing victims of the violence. He is frequently quoted speaking out against human rights abuses in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. 

“Firing Felix Agbor-Balla from the University of Buea is a blatant attack on academic freedom, and an attempt to silence the urgent discussion about Cameroon’s crisis,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “The dictatorship’s campaign of intimidation against the most prominent advocate of the rights of the Anglophone minority illustrates the contempt that Paul Biya exercises against Cameroon’s human rights defenders. It’s awful,” he said.

On May 6, Agbor-Balla, who has been a lecturer in the faculty of law and political science at the University of Buea since 2015, was arbitrarily relieved of his teaching duties. The dismissal follows an April 20 letter from Cameroon’s Minister of Higher Education, ordering the university to take measures against Agbor-Balla for infringing on the “apolitical character of the university.” Wilfred Gabsa, another ministry official, went further and accused Agbor-Balla of turning his classroom into a political campaign space.

The accusations were based on a March 3 examination question in a class called Political & Constitutional History of Cameroon, which Agbor and two other professors taught. The question asked students to think critically about the reasons behind the crisis: “The Anglophone crisis since 2016 was caused by the lawyers’ and teachers’ strike. Assess the validity of this statement.”

A series of strikes and peaceful marches erupted in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in 2016 to protest injustices from decades of discrimination and political marginalization under Cameroon’s authoritarian government. Dictator Paul Biya responded to the protests with brutal repression and by cutting off the Internet for months. In response, separatists launched an armed insurgency against the regime. The violence has left more than 3,000 people dead and one million displaced. In 2017, Agbor-Balla was imprisoned for eight months and accused of terrorism and incitement of civil war for organizing a peaceful protest. 

The university launched disciplinary procedures against Agbor-Balla, but not against his two co-lecturers. He was suspended from teaching and summoned before a disciplinary panel for “non-compliance of professional obligations.” The university formally dismissed Agbor-Balla on May 6 after he protested the unfair treatment and boycotted the hearing.

 

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