8, January 2023
A military court in Cameroon has acquitted five workers with French medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) a year after they were charged with assisting a suspected separatist rebel, MSF said on Friday.
The ruling was handed down on December 29 but had not been made public, the NGO’s lawyer, Edouard Essono, told AFP.
“All five were given the benefit of the doubt and acquitted,” Essono said.
The incident occurred on December 27, 2021, when two local MSF employees were stopped at a traffic checkpoint in western Cameroon, a mainly English-speaking region where armed separatists have clashed with government security forces for the past six years.
Soldiers discovered in their ambulance a man suffering from a bullet wound who MSF said needed “urgent care”.
The two were arrested and jailed in Buea, capital of the Southwest region, and two other Cameroonian employees were detained later.
The authorities searched for a fifth MSF worker, an Indian national, but he managed to leave the country.
Of the five, two of whom were women, two were released on bail in May 2022, another in November, and the last on December 30.
“MSF has always defended the work of its staff and categorically denied any complicity with armed groups or stakeholders in any violent conflict,” the group said in a statement to AFP.
The NGO halted its operations in Southwest Cameroon in July 2022 and did not say if these would resume after the acquittals.
The government suspended the charity’s work in neighbouring Northwest Cameroon, also majority English-speaking, in late 2020, accusing its medical teams of aiding and abetting armed separatists.
Civilians have been the main victims of the fighting between Anglophone separatists and security forces.
More than 6,000 people have died and more than a million others forced from their homes since 2016, according to the International Crisis Group.
The arrests were the latest of several challenges for MSF in the troubled country.
In February 2022, five MSF aid workers were kidnapped in Cameroon’s Far North region, which is regularly targeted by jihadist insurgents. They were released in March in neighbouring Nigeria.