The Cameroun French daily newspaper EMERGENCE caught up with PENN TERENCE KHAN, a Prisoner of Conscience locked up by Paul Biya in the dreaded Yaounde Central Prison since January 2017 just because he voiced his opinion as the forward on the crisis rocking Cameroun. Penn Terence Khan, age 40 was the former Vice Principal of CCAST Bambili, a renowned High School in Bamenda created in 1964 by John Ngu Foncha. The father of four was sentenced to 12 years in detention with a fine of 15 million on trumped-up charges. Here is what he had to tell EMERGENCE:
EMERGENCE: Recently, we learned that many English-speaking prisoners were at risk of death. What's going on?*
PENN TERENCE: First of all, I want to let you know that those who kidnapped us from our homes and threw us into this stinking place want us dead at all cost. I call it a kidnapping because we were all arbitrarily arrested and transferred to detention centers far from our families and loved ones who could rush to our aid when we were sick. We have stood idly by and watched helplessly as our people suffer and die and there is nothing we can do about it. Currently, among those who have died in Yaoundé Central Jail are Wolen Vitalist and Weisey Frederick, an elderly man and his nephew who were abducted from Kumbo on their way to Banso Baptist Hospital, the Reverend Tangem Thomas, an elderly man abducted in Buea because the army claimed that he could make locally made weapons in the future, Ambe Louis who we believe was poisoned in Quarter 3 of Yaoundé central prison. We even wrote a complaint against those who swore to poison all of us and sent it through the prison administration to the prosecutor of the military court in Yaoundé and he shredded it. Finally, we have Asang Viginus, who was arrested in Mbanjock simply because a neighbor called the gendarmes him for being a terrorist. The singular fact that he spoke the English language was sufficient reason to be dragged before the Yaounde Military Tribunal and be charged of secession and terrorism.
All the inmates who have died in the different prisons suffered from the same conditions which include the overcrowded nature of the prisons. With an estimated occupancy rate of 600%, at the end of 2016, the central prison of Kondengui in Yaoundé has more than 4,250 people in a space intended for less than 1,500.
Again, as we all know, food is health, many death cases are due to hunger, malnutrition, lack of food .. no meat, vegetables, fish, fruit. In 2017, the administration allocated less than 300 FCFA per day for food, per detainee
An absence of adequate medical follow-up and refusal by the prison administration to allow detainees to go for an adequate medical check-up. In most cases, inmates are only allowed to go to the hospital when diseases have eaten away at them so deeply that only the carcass remains. Even at this rate, we cannot afford to pay the high medical bills in hospitals and sent back to die in jail or neglected in hospital to die slowly. We are yet to understand how a government arrests people and lock them away from their families and expect them to pay exorbitant medical bills.
EMERGENCE: Can we say that negotiations with the government are at a standstill?
PENN TERENCE: Yes, from my point of view, the negotiations or whatever we choose to call it have stalled and this is a deliberate decision by the Cameroonian government. For them, it is a marketing strategy and the government of Cameroon makes billions from the war with the obscure excuse of seeking peace and the reconstruction of war-torn areas. As money continues to flow in from donor countries, no one really cares whether the war is over or not. France, Japan, Canada and the Bretton Woods institutions have injected so much money into Cameroon since 2016 under the pretext of seeking peace or reconstruction. Reconstruction is a post-war measure and not during an ongoing war.
On July 2, 2020, Sisiku AyukTabe, together with the other inmates of Yaoundé's central and main prisons, had presented four confidence-building solutions at the end of the 60-year conflict, not all of which had been duly considered by the government of Cameroon. These four points necessary for the cessation of hostilities and a ceasefire included the demilitarization of villages and towns where war is raging on, the release of all prisoners of conscience locked up in the various prisons in Cameroon and an amnesty granted to all exiled compatriots. By this he meant all refugees in Nigeria, Ghana and those seeking political asylum in all corners of the globe. When the first three conditions must have been met, real and inclusive negotiation mediated by a neutral party can begin to end this age-old conflict.
There is no war or conflict that does not end on the negotiating table. After the heavy fighting in Tigray, the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) reached a ceasefire agreement on the dialogue table. Once again, the government of Congo has never closed the doors of dialogue with the M23 rebels. Last month they reached an agreement which was seen as a positive step towards ending the 20-year-old conflict. As Sisiku AyukTabe has always said, we have always been open to dialogue and negotiations.
EMERGENCE: According to the government, the situation on the noso is stable. Are things really not going back to normal?*
PENN TERENCE: The conflict in Cameroon dates back to 1961 and the Cameroonian government has only cosmetic solutions to end the conflict. All measures or solutions provided by the government are whitewashed solutions that will be washed away as soon as possible. All the solutions brought by the Cameroonian government from 1961 to the major national dialogue of 2019 have not stood the test of time. The government of Cameroon never imagined that after the amendment of the constitution in 1996 to pacify the people they call Anglophones, things would return to this level, but here we are. A war has been raging for six years. No matter how the government tries to mask it, people are dying every day in the former Southern Cameroons. The villages have been deserted since the army burned them down. This false notion of stability cannot be measured by looking at urban areas like Bamenda, Kumba, Limbe and Buea. Rural areas are still a no go zone as the struggle is still raging and many deaths are being recorded daily.
EMERGENCE: Countries like the United States that initially seemed to support the Anglophone cause are backing down. Three people living in the United States have been charged with trying to destabilize a foreign country. What does this American turnaround inspire in you and what does this arrest mean to you?
PENN TERENCE: The United States of America simply upholds the rule of law and respect for human rights in any conflict. Human rights violators will never go unpunished. On June 7, 2021, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced visa restrictions for people promoting violence in Southern Cameroons and as I have said before, the Cameroonian government is not not excluded from these restrictions. It is an ongoing process and regime apologists will not be left out.
Professor Hannah Garry of the University of California, along with other international legal experts have already filed a legal brief with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court calling for a preliminary investigation for crimes against humanity committed at the both by the Government of Cameroon and the Self-Defense Groups against civilians in the former Southern Cameroons.
The three people, Chi Claude, Langmia and Francis, charged in the United States mean nothing to me. They are Americans accused of breaking American laws. An indictment does not mean they are guilty. It will be up to the Attorney General to prove that they are guilty and until they have their day in court, they are all innocent until proven guilty. The onus is on the US justice system to prove or establish their guilt in the kidnappings and money laundering. If they're guilty, justice will take their cause
If on the other hand, they were Ambazonians benefiting from the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) announced on April 15, 2022 because the United States of America has recognized the ongoing conflict and human rights violations in Cameroon, I would have said that the United States has turned around but that is not the case. On December 14, 2022, we saw the same people and many others protesting openly outside the Conrad Hotel in Washington DC and no arrests were made
EMERGENCE: The Minister Delegate for the Presidency announced the creation of a commission by the Head of State to track down all the sponsors of violence in the NoSo living in the United States and in other countries of the world. Don't you see this as a way for the government to fight violence?
PENN TERENCE: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Cameroon is known for creating commissions upon commissions to resolve conflict and other hot issues. All of these projects are just white elephants with only one purpose;suck up taxpayers' money and fold up without a solution. The commission to be created will end up like the other commissions that have existed; put more taxpayers' money in the pockets of those who run the commission.
When the conflict erupted in 2016, Paul Biya shied away from the main concerns of the day by creating a Multiculturalism and Bilingualism Commission led by Peter Mafany Musonge to propose solutions to end the 60 years of conflict. Billions of FCFA were injected into this so-called commission for the purchase of expensive vehicles and trips to Switzerland and Europe, but this did nothing to resolve the Anglophone conflict. Another commission may soon be created to assess the work of the Musonge Commission and that is the cycle.
EMERGENCE: The Speaker of the House of Chiefs of the North West was kidnapped. In a video he declares that no mercy submits his release to that of his family. Do you think the government can give in to this type of request?
PENN TERENCE: The Cameroonian government has given in to many of these demands in the not too distant past and I see no reason why it will not heed such a request. In November 2013, the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram released a video of Father Georges Vandenbeusch, a French priest kidnapped in northern Cameroon. It did not take long for Cameroon to negotiate the release of the Catholic priest. A year later, the family of Amadou Ali, then Deputy Prime Minister, was kidnapped by the same Islamic sect in Kolofata. Cameroon wasted no time in negotiating their release. It was even said that marked ransom bills were later found circulating in Yaoundé.
I still have the impression that the bigwigs of the CPDM party rather want the Fon to be killed because since the video of the Fon came out in the press, the Army has increased its attacks against the inhabitants of Ngoketungia. After all, many want to take the Fon's place in the Regional Assembly and the House of Chiefs.
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