More than 300,000 letters and petitions from people around the world have been sent to Cameroonian President Paul Biya calling on him to release three students each sentenced to 10 years in prison by a military court for sharing a joke by SMS about Boko Haram, Amnesty International revealed on Wednesday.
As part of the organization’s annual Write for Rights campaign 2016, over 310,000 actions were taken from people across the globe asking that Fomusoh Ivo Feh and his friends, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob, be immediately released.
The three students were found guilty of ‘non-denunciation of terrorism related information’ on 2 November 2016. They have appealed their conviction and sentence. The appeal is now set for 15 June after several delays.
“These students have done nothing more than share a private joke, but their conviction and sentence could see them spend a decade behind bars and destroy their future prospects. They continue to languish in prison facing an unclear fate,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Director.
“We join more than 310,000 people across the world in calling on the authorities in Cameroon to release these students, allow them to re-join their families, and realise their dream of continuing their studies and finding a job.”
Celebrities such as Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and Patrick Mboma, a former Cameroonian football striker and Fomusoh Ivo’s favourite footballer, sent letters to the authorities, solidarity messages in prison to Ivo and his two friends and tweeted about the case.
In December 2014, Fomusoh Ivo received a text message from a friend, saying:
“Boko Haram recruits young people from 14 years old and above. Conditions for recruitment: 4 subjects at GCE, including religion”. His friend’s message was intended as a comment on the difficulty of finding a good job without being highly qualified – joking that even the armed group Boko Haram won’t recruit you without good exam results.
Ivo forwarded the message to Afuh Nivelle Nfor, who sent it to Azah Levis Gob. One of their teachers saw the text, having confiscated the phone, and showed it to the police. Ivo and his friends were all arrested. They were transferred to the Prison in Yaoundé on 14 January 2015 and kept with their legs chained at the ankles.
They were charged under the Cameroonian Penal Code and Cameroonian Military Code on 3 March 2015. Their ankle chains were not removed for four months, and then only after their lawyer made a request to the investigating judge in April 2015.
“Ivo and his friends should be released immediately and unconditionally. Convictions for trumped up charges such as these in the name of national security is no way to keep a country safe,” said Alioune Tine.
“Cameroonian authorities have a duty to protect the population from the horrific human rights abuses committed by Boko Haram, but this must be done while respecting human rights. All those unjustly imprisoned must be released.”