Cameroon: release forest defender Nasako Besingi NOW!

Nasako Besingi - Jailed for opposing Palm oil Nasako Besingi (© SEFE)
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In an early-morning raid on September 25, Cameroonian police officers and soldiers arrested environmentalist Nasako Besingi and trashed the office of his NGO. He has not been seen since. Besingi has been opposing palm oil projects for years and has been imprisoned several times. Please demand his immediate release.

Call to action

To: Mr. Philémon Yang, Prime Minister and Chief of Government of Cameroon

“End the harassment and intimidation of human rights activists and environmentalists in Cameroon. Release Nasako Besingi NOW!”

Read letter

Monday, September 25, in the town of Mudemba in southwestern Cameroon: a large group of police officers and soldiers force their way into the head office of SEFE (Struggle to Economize the Future Environment), a local NGO, at the crack of dawn. They ransack the rooms and confiscate documents, as well as the laptop, phone, SIM cards, identity card and passport of environmental activist Nasako Besingi.

Besingi was taken away to the local police station. Twenty minutes later, he was loaded into the back of a Gendarmerie pickup truck. According to the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, this was the last time he was seen, and there have been no signs of life from him since. 

It is unclear on whose orders police officers and soldiers acted, or whether they had a warrant. The charges against Besingi are unknown.

Nasako Besingi has devoted years of his life to protecting the rainforest and leading his community in protests against the development of palm oil plantations. He has been sentenced to fines and prison terms for opposing forest destruction and land grabbing by companies like Sithe Global Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC), the local subsidiary of Herakles Farms in New York, an agribusiness enterprise backed by US investors. In 2009, SGSOC received a concession under dubious circumstances from the government of Cameroon for a 73,000-hectare palm oil project on rainforest land

Rainforest Rescue and other organizations from all over the world have protested the judicial harassment of environmental activists in Cameroon in the past.

Please demand the immediate release of Nasako Besingi. Please also sign our petition “Keep oil palm plantations out of this forest!

Back­ground Letter

To: Mr. Philémon Yang, Prime Minister and Chief of Government of Cameroon

Honourable Prime Minister,

I have been informed that on 25 September 2017, human rights defender Nasako Besingi was arbitrarily arrested by local police officers, gendarmes and army officers in his office in Mundemba, Ndian Division, Cameroon.

According to this information, on said day at around 6.30am, local police officers, gendarmes and army officers entered Nasako Besingi’s office, located next to his home, and arrested the human rights defender. The officers searched Nasako Besingi’s office and confiscated documents, a laptop, his phone, SIM cards as well as the human rights defender’s identity card and passport. Following the search, Nasako Besingi was taken by car to the Gendarmerie brigade in Mundemba but was never informed of the charges against him. Twenty minutes after his arrival at the Gendarmerie brigade, he was seen being taken by car from the brigade to an unknown location.

The arrest of Nasako Besingi follows a larger pattern of judicial harassment against the human rights defender due to his peaceful work in promoting human rights in Cameroon. On 21 January 2016, the Court of First Instance of Mundemba sentenced Nasako Besingi to either pay a fine of 344,400 CFA Francs (approximately €524) or serve one year’s imprisonment. On 3 November 2015, he was convicted on defamation charges brought against him after Herakles Farms claimed that an article published by the human rights defender caused injury to the company. In the article in question, the human rights defender reported a violent attack he had suffered in 2012, in which he recognised the assailants as employees of Herakles Farms. The human rights defender was ordered to pay a fine of 1 million CFA Francs (approximately €1,500) or face 3 years' imprisonment.

I have serious concerns about the arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of Nasako Besingi which is part of a larger pattern of harassment against the human rights defender.

I urge you as Prime Minister of the country to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release Nasako Besingi, as Front Line Defenders believes that he is being held solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

2. Inform Nasako Besingi’s family and lawyer of the location of his detention, and allow them immediate and unfettered access to him;

3. Ensure that the treatment of Nasako Besingi while in detention adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;

4. Cease targeting all human rights defenders in Cameroon and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Yours faithfully,