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UN intervenes again as Cameroon online lockdown continues

UN intervenes again as Cameroon online lockdown continues

The United Nations (UN) has expressed confidence that the internet will be restored in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, after a shutdown of the Net that has lasted for more than three months.

The assurance was issued late last week after a five-day visit by UN representatives who are looking for ways to end civil unrest in parts of Cameroon which has resulted in an internet shutdown by authorities.

François Louncény Fall, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Head of the United Nations Regional Office For Central Africa (UNOCA) says he is confident that the internet will be restored - although he does not commit to a timeline.

"I had fruitful and hopeful exchanges with the national authorities, including the Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic, the Minister of State, Minister of Justice, and the General Delegate for National Security. We have measures announced on 30 March by the government to respond to the concerns of lawyers and teachers in the English-speaking regions. We also discussed the Internet disruption in the Northwest regions And the South-West. It is a deplorable situation. But I am convinced that this important tool for development, communication, and collective fulfilment will be gradually restored throughout the Cameroonian territory. I also had fruitful discussions with members of civil society, opposition leaders, members of the diplomatic corps and the United Nations team in the country."

The government announced plans to restore internet services for hospitals, universities, and banks in the northwestern city of Bamenda late last month. Fall says he noted willingness by all the parties, including the Cameroonian Government, to work within the law.

"In general, my exchanges with the various interlocutors allowed me to note with satisfaction the determination of all to address this issue and their commitment to privileging an approach highlighting the best interests of the nation, scrupulous observance of the Constitution and treaties to which Cameroon is a party."

Fall adds that he had the opportunity to speak with Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla and radio broadcaster M. Mancho Bibixy who are among the people arrested in connection with the socio-political situation in Cameroon.

Angela Quintal, Africa Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists says several journalists who have been unable to publish their work due to the internet shutdown have been imprisoned for their work when they have found ways to do so.

"In recent months, the government has taken increasingly drastic steps to suppress the rights to transmit and receive information in Cameroon, particularly in predominantly Anglophone regions. Media outlets have been suspended, and journalists have been banned from practicing their craft, according to CPJ research. The internet has been inaccessible to residents of the northwestern and southwestern regions of Cameroon since January 17, 2017."

The latest intervention by the UN in Cameroon follows previous calls for the internet to be restored which were not heeded.

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression urged the government to restore internet facilities in a statement issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council in February.

"A network shutdown of this scale violates international law – it not only suppresses public debate, but also deprives Cameroonians of access to essential services and basic resources,"

Fall is scheduled to return to Cameroon for the 44th Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa (UNSAC) for an update on progress in restoring internet access in affected regions.

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