Lawyers acting for a university student who died in the custody of Cameroon’s military intelligence are calling for the government to create an independent commission to investigate the death.
The body of Ngule Linus was taken by plainclothes officers to a hospital in Buea, Southwest Cameroon, hours after he and a friend were arrested, the lawyers say.
Mboh Jeres, arrested with Linus at their university hostel, remains in detention. No one knows for sure where he is, or his state of health.
Linus and Jeres were arrested on March 15. They have been accused of working with separatist fighters in Cameroon, and activists abroad.
Separatist terrorist groups in Cameroon are trying to build an independent country out of the two English-speaking regions nearest Cameroon’s western border with Nigeria.
Barrister Amungwa Tanyi Nix, of the students defence team, said they believed the students were arrested by the Military Intelligence Service (SEMIL), but no official statement has been made by the Ministry of Defence 15 days after it happened.
Quoting a source at the hospital, the defence team revealed the corpse of Ngule Linus was transferred to the Regional Hospital Buea Mortuary by two military officers at 1:00am on March 16, barely 12 hours after they were taken from their room at 1 pm.
Nix also requested the family of the deceased be allowed to conduct an independent post-mortem on Linus’ corpse, and its immediate release for burial.
Official accounts of the events leading up to Linus’ death are inconsistent.
According to Raymond, brother of the deceased student, he received a call from his brother’s phone, asking him to come to the office of SEMIL in Buea.
He was told by one of the officers on duty that his brother had been shot during a gun battle between separatist fighters and government forces.
Raymond told local media that while viewing his brother’s corpse, he could not see anything he recognised as bullet wounds.
Lawyers on the defence team said they were told by SEMIL that Ngule Linus collapsed during his interrogation when he was shown a picture of one of his “separatist friends”, and later died of “emotional shock” at the hospital.
After meeting with some authorities at the Ministry of Defence, the defence team said they were told Ngule Linus and Mboh Jeres were working with separatists and declared they had found a gun in the room they were sharing.
They were also told Mboh Jeres was arrested on his way to Idenau to collect arms smuggled into the country from Nigeria.
The confusion surrounding the arrest of the pair, and Linus’ subsequent death, was deepened when videos showing the bodies of two young men lying by the roadside made rounds on social media on the day the students were arrested.
In the video circulated on Facebook, a self-acclaimed vigilante head of Buea, Ewome John also known as Moja Moja, says the displayed bodies are ‘separatist fighters’. The graphic video has now been taken down by Facebook.
Many people wrongly identified them as Linus and Jeres. The clip of the bodies circulated hours after another video showing Jeres and Linus being escorted out of their hostel by men in civilian attire.
Seeing Ewome John describe whom they thought was Linus and Jeres as separatist fighters, many social media users shared the fake news, calling for “justice” for the murder of their friends.
It was later established that the two bodies displayed were different men, killed by the military in an operation conducted on the same day.
In a two-hour live show on social media former separatist fighter Naseri Clovis, who has worked with the government since he laid down arms and joined a disarmament centre for former fighters, claimed he was part of the sting operation that set up Linus and Jeres for arrest.
Clovis had pretended to be an arms dealer, and had lured the pair into a trap whereupon they were arrested by SEMIL.
He also claimed the two led the military to a separatist hideout close to Buea, which the military later attacked, killing the two separatist fighters who were displayed in the viral video.
He said he had no idea of the circumstances in which Linus died.
None of what Clovis has said can be independently verified.
For the past two years, Clovis has been running a popular Facebook page, where he reports all separatist attacks repelled by government forces.
He has been posting videos encouraging other separatists to drop arms. He has often declared he was working with government forces to fish out separatist fighters.
Human Rights Activist Agbor Balla has reacted to the incident, urging the government to investigate Linus’ mysterious death.
The University of Buea in a press release 15 days after the scandal, denied claims the corpses displayed on the viral video were the students.
They said the two students were apprehended by the military. “Unfortunately Linus died whilst in custody”, said the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ngomo Horace Manga.
No official statement has been made by the Ministry of Defence on the case.