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The death penalty trial of the leaders of the now banned Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) opened at the military court in Yaounde on Monday February 13.
The hearing that took place amid a heavy presence of soldiers exposed the domination of the French language over English which was one of the grievances of the minority Anglophones in the country.
Accused of leading the protests that have rocked the North West and South West regions of the country for close to three months now, Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor-Balla, Dr Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy were charged among other things for terrorism and insurrection.
They could be sentenced to death under the 2014 Anti-terrorism if found guilty.
But trio pleaded not guilty to all the charges brought against them as the hearing exposed the dominance of the French language.
Charges brought against the English speaking community leaders were read in French, though the defence lawyers opposed and a translator was eventually brought. They still had to wait for the proceedings in French to be translated.
About 100 advocates from the Cameroon Bar Association under the leadership of former Bar president, Barrister Ben Muna entered appearance for the defendants.
Tension increased when the prosecution presented an incomplete list of witnesses, saying it was still compiling such.
The defence counsel raised preliminary objections, questioning why activists were arrested when prosecution had no witnesses.
“The preliminary objection which we raised had to do with how the case was investigated which is the proof that the prosecution said they were not ready. They don’t have witnesses,” Barrister Ben Muna told the VOA.
The case was later adjourned to March 23 for the prosecution to update its list of witnesses.
Critics say the absence of an English language version of the charges, the Yaounde venue of the trial instead of the North West and South West exposed the Anglophoone marginalisation in the country that is bilingual and bi-jural.
The activists were arrested in the regional capitals of the two Anglophone regions, Bamenda and Buea in January and promptly whisked off to Yaoundé despite the fact that there are military tribunals in the regions.