YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — A Cameroon military tribunal sentenced to life in prison a leader of the country’s English-speaking separatist movement and 9 supporters on Tuesday, after finding them guilty of charges including secession, terrorism and hostility against the state.
The tribunal sentenced Julius Ayuk Tabe, the head of the Anglophone secessionist movement, and nine others and ordered them to pay millions of dollars to the state and civil claimants.
The defense counsel boycotted the trial, claiming bias.
Defense lawyer Edwin Fongo said Tuesday they would appeal the sentence.
“They have denied justice to those people. We are going to take necessary steps to make sure we go on appeal. You do not judge people in such circumstances without a lawyer,” Fongo said.
Those sentenced were arrested in neighboring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon in January 2018 along with 46 others alleged to support the campaign for a separatist English-speaking state in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions. The separatists say the independent country should be called Ambazonia.
Violence erupted in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.
The government responded with a crackdown that sparked a movement for an independent, English-speaking state in 2017.
Armed conflict has since killed more than 2,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group and the United Nations.
Rights groups criticized the life sentences, saying they are an abuse of the rule of law and could lead to more violence. Tabe’s arrest and detention have been a major negotiation point for the separatists since his arrest.
“It is actually a disgrace to democracy. This decision would intensify tension in the northwest and the southwest. It would intensify killings and it would intensify the destruction of properties,” said Prince Ekosso, chairman of the opposition United Socialist Democratic Party.
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