YAOUNDE May 24 Cameroon security forces
prevented Amnesty International from holding a press conference
on Wednesday to call for the release of three young men jailed
in 2015 for sharing a joke.
A dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers closed a
conference room in a hotel in the capital Yaounde where the
meeting was scheduled to take place, the London-based human
rights group said in a statement.
The government confirmed it had thwarted the press
conference, citing a "threat to public order".
Rights groups have criticised increasing repression under
the 35-year-old rule of President Paul Biya, including a recent
crackdown on protests in its Anglophone region in which dozens
were jailed and the internet switched off for three months.
Amnesty had planned to present over 310,000 letters and
petitions protesting at the arrest and sentencing of Fomusoh
Ivo, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob for sharing a text
message joke about the strict academic entrance requirements of
Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has committed a series
of suicide attacks in Cameroon in the past few years.
"Boko Haram recruits young people from 14 years old and
above. Conditions for recruitment: 4 subjects at GCE, including
religion," the text message said, a joke both about the
Islamists and the difficulty of finding a job in Cameroon.
A teacher discovered the message and reported it to the
police. The trio were arrested, jailed in January 2015 and kept
in chains for months, Amnesty said. They were found guilty of
"non-denunciation of terrorism acts" in November 2016 and
sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Their appeal hearing is set for June 15.
"If a demonstration is a threat to public order, the
authorities have the right to ban it. That was what was done to
the Amnesty International (press) conference," Communications
Minister Issa Tchiroma told Reuters by telephone, adding that
this was a "precaution to maintain security."
Political tensions in Cameroon have simmered in the last
seven months against Biya's long rule. Violent unrest including
strikes have raised pressure on Biya at home and internationally
ahead of the next presidential election in 2018.
(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Tim Cocks and Mark