Southern Cameroons: Charges Dropped
After much postponements and disruptions in the case if Mr. Nfor Ngala Nfor, the charges held against him were dropped putting an end to a long year of tribunal adjournments.
The Hague, 10 December 2007 – UNPO is pleased by the news that the trial of UNPO Member representative and Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) Vice-Chairman Nfor Ngala Nfor and other SCNC members arrested in January 2007 has been thrown out of court and all charges against the defendants have been dropped, putting an end to almost a year of delays and cancelled court appearances. The charges were dropped due to constant stalling of the judicial system and the lack of evidence provided by the prosecution.
While UNPO warmly welcomes the acquittal of the SCNC members, it is disappointed at the inefficiency and incompetence of the Cameroonian judicial system in failing to bring the case to a close in a more appropriate time scale. The SCNC members suffered numerous adjournments in their case, causing massive disruption and stress to the individuals.
The defendants were originally arrested at an SCNC press conference on 20 January 2007, and remained in detention without bail for over 50 days.
On 17 April 2007, key prosecution witness Mr Sombe Simon did not appear in court, causing the hearings to be delayed until 19 June 2007. Then, in June, none of the prosecution witnesses, along with the presiding Judge, Justice Julius Nchu Cheo, managed to present themselves in court. The proceedings were then adjourned until 28 August 2007, at which point Mr. Sombe Simon was again found to be missing.
On 28 August 2007 the proceedings in the case against Nfor Ngala Nfor, and a number of other SCNC members were adjourned until 23 October 2007.
On 23 October 2007 again a number of key figures in the trial were absent from court, resulting in yet another delay, with a new hearing scheduled for 15 November 2007, which, as it turned out, also proved to be a fruitless endeavour.
Following the previous trend, the case was adjourned yet again on November 15 2007. The hearing had been moved to 06 December 2007. This delay, the latest in a long series of delays, was caused by the failure of the prosecution witnesses and the judge to appear in his own courtroom. The absence of prosecution witnesses, especially, has been a characteristic feature of this trial and the reason of many previous adjournments.
Prior to the delays in the actual trial, bail hearings had been adjourned on no less than six occasions, resulting in the imprisonment of the defendants for more than 50 days. This prompted condemnation from Members of European Parliament Mr. Marco Pannella and Mr. Marco Cappato, who called for the Cameroonian courts to conduct a fair and open trial, free of unnecessary delays. As their statement from 15 June 2007 reads, they urge Justice Nchu Julius Cheo to “ensure that the trial is conducted in a free and fair manner”, and that “any individual responsible for delaying hearings will be held accountable”.
There are allegations that the continuous delays are a tactic to keep SCNC members imprisoned and to avoid having to provide evidence against the defendants, thus disrupting any chance of a fair trial.
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