After two years of living in inhuman and deprived conditions in a Cameroonian prison, 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong became free after repeated interventions by lawyers from Contra Nocendi Cameroon.
On September 28 2015, Beng was arrested for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an allegation that a lot of youth in Cameroon are being baselessly arrested for. At the time of the arrest, he was working as an unskilled laborer in a saw mill to support his family. Given their underprivileged background, his family could not afford to send him to school. This prompted Beng to move to Buea to stay with his aunt in early 2011 here he later started to work at the saw mill. Beng grew up in the north west region of Cameroon with his family as one of nine children.
On that day in September 2015, the police was tipped off by Beng's boss who was not willing to pay his monthly dues. When Beng confronted his boss about this and asked for the stipend that was due to him the latter called the police who immediately threw Beng behind bars.
He had since been in detention at the Buea Central Prison for a total duration of over two years. Beng has never seen the insides of a courthouse nor had the chance to get legal aid from a lawyer who can represent him in court, until Contra Nocendi happened to find out about him. Contra Nocendi's lawyers were interacting with some other detainees when they found out that Beng had been languishing in the very same detention center, completely helpless without access to help. He had also not had a single family member visit him since the start of his detention.
After several attempts by Contra Nocendi to get in touch with his family, which was in vain, we finally met his uncle who lives in Buea. Meanwhile, the court held Beng under arrest for not possessing a national identity card under which a person can be imprisoned for three months to a year and/or with a fine between 50,000 and 100,000 francs. The sad reality is that Beng was actually held under arrest for almost double the normal duration of a sentence for such an offense. Had he been convicted, he would have already been released too.
Contra Nocendi decided to fight for Beng and the two lawyers filed a habeas corpus at the Fako High Court highlighting that his detention was arbitrary, illegal and in gross violation of his fundamental human rights. With repeated visits by the lawyers and mounting pressure to look into Beng's unfair detention, the court finally decided to set him free.
Cases of lengthy pretrial detentions such as Beng's are becoming increasingly common among the youth in Cameroon and in most instances the charges are untrue and have no basis. Contra Nocendi has raised this issue several times with the United Nations Human Rights Committee's Universal Periodic Review workgroup. The review states that Cameroon needs to look into ending the practice of arbitrarily arresting, torturing and illegally detaining citizens. Contra Nocendi also highlighted in its joint submission to this report that many Cameroonians are being arbitrarily
arrested and held in horrifying conditions in detention centres, and that Cameroon needs to work closely with the judicial system to make sure that detention periods are not excessive.
Conditions in the detention centres are also highly deplorable, and Contra Nocendi has repeatedly raised concerns about it before, along with a recent investigation that revealed the poor conditions in which detainees are kept in these places.
We will continue to fight for Cameroonian youth like Beng who cannot afford legal counsel and have absolutely no access to any external help, are forgotten by their own state and are forced to suffer in detention centres for prolonged periods of time.