On March 15, 2023, members of SEMIL, Cameroon’s military intelligence unit, arrested Ngule Linus Fontec, a fourth-year student at the University of Buea, and his roommate Mboh Giress, a sixth-year student, for their alleged involvement in “terrorist activities.” Fontec died while in police custody.
The arrest took place in Fontec’s and Giress’s dorm room. SEMIL accused the two of working with separatist fighters in Cameroon and activists abroad.
According to hospital workers, two SEMIL officers brought Fontec’s body to the Regional Hospital Buea Mortuary less than 12 hours after their arrest. SEMIL has given conflicting reports on the cause of Fontec’s death, however an autopsy of Fontec indicated there was torture prior to his death. Giress remained in custody three months after his arrest.
On April 6, 2023, Barrister Amungwa Tanyi Nicodemus, the Fontec family lawyer, submitted a petition to the Secretariat of State for Defense demanding an investigation into the circumstances leading to Fontec’s death. The government granted the request and launched an investigation in June 2023.
The arrests occurred against the backdrop of an ongoing separatist movement in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon that started in 2016. Since then, human rights organizations have documented the torture, rape, arrest, and illegal military detention of students from the two universities in Buea and Bameda, both located in that region. The military has accused those students of communicating with, working with. or supporting separatists fighters.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the death of a student while in police custody. SAR offers condolences to the family and colleagues of the deceased student. State authorities have an obligation to protect those who have been arrested and must ensure torture is not used in the process of interrogating an individual. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, violence during protests undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.