Edward Snowden among hundreds criticising internet shutdown in English-speaking Cameroon

Alleged Cameroon protests over French language
Alleged Cameroon protests over French language

The Cameroonian government is facing mounting criticism for its decision to shut down the internet in its English-speaking areas. The move came after months of unrest in Southwest and Northwest provinces, Cameroon's only Anglophone areas.

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Lawyers, teachers and students have been striking and protesting since October 2016 against perceived marginalisation and the use of French in courts and schools in the provinces.

Some protests have turned violent resulting the deaths of at least four protesters in Bamenda, capital of Northwest province, according to police sources. Dozens have been arrested, with right groups calling on authorities to investigate the fatalities.

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The internet was banned earlier in January. Minette Libom Li Likeng, minister of post and telecommunications, said the restriction was in line with President Paul Biya's call to use social networks responsibly.

Activists and observers have since taken to social media to criticise the ban under the hashtag #BringBackOurInternet.

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Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistleblower, said in a Twitter post: "This is the future of repression."

The Cameroonian High Commission in London has not responded to a request for comments on the unrest.

Southern Cameroons and independence calls

Southern Cameroons

Southern Cameroons was the southern part of the British Mandate territory of Cameroons during the colonisation.

In 1961, people of Southern Cameroons voted whether to join Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroon, which had already obtained independence from Britain and France one year earlier.

The vote resulted in Southern Cameroons becoming part of the French speaking Republic of Cameroon.

In 1972, a new constitution was adopted in Cameroon, replacing the federal state with a unitary state.

The "Cameroon Anglophone Movement" was created in 1984. People originally sought a return to a federal system, but eventually started calling for independence.

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Amid the ongoing unrest, some groups have taken to the streets demanding a return to a federal state system and the breakaway of the north-west and south-west provinces and the restoration of "Southern Cameroons", or the Republic of Ambazonia, a British mandate during colonisation.

Schools and businesses have been repeatedly closed in Bamenda and Buea, capital of Southwest province, due to so-called "ghost town" strikes organised by English-speaking groups.

Footage of children being caught in violence during anti-French demonstrations has sparked outrage on social media, prompting the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium to call "for greater self-discipline" during rallies.

The government has now banned the group and another Anglophone organisation .

Authorities have denied allegations of excessive use of force by military and police to quell protests and told IBTimes UK in December 2016 they were engaging with the organisers of the strikes.

The government has rejected calls for a referendum on a possible return to a federal system.

Meanwhile, some analysts have claimed authorities are failing to address people's long-standing grievances that go beyond the use of French in courts and schools.

The African Union (AU) is calling for dialogue in Cameroon, condemning "the loss of lives and destruction of property".

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