By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE
Lawyers defending detained nursing mother, Antoinette Kongnso Gohla, who was arrested in October for “failure to report terrorism”, have said they will be appealing against Tuesday’s court judgment which deemed her detention legal till April 2022.
Although the 30-year-old appeared in court for the first time since her arrest, the case was dismissed from the Buea High Court for a second time, with presiding Judge, Anne Afong, saying it is legal for Kongnso and her week-old baby to remain in pre-trial detained until April 2022, when the magistrate at the Military Tribunal in Buea must have finalised investigations.
Talking to journalists after the court session on Tuesday, Nov. 16, Barrister Edward Lyonga Ewule, Buea-based human rights lawyer who filed a habeas corpus against her arrest and detention, said they will be appealing the verdict.
Alongside about 11 other human rights lawyers, Ewule has been demanding her release, but the court maintained that both the arrest and detention were legal; dismissing a second habeas corpus suit they filed at the high court, after the first one was dismissed on Nov. 9.
“The first application was struck out based on technical grounds which was a little bit disturbing,” Lead Counsel, Barrister Ligenju Vitalis, told the press on Tuesday November 19.
He added: “We went back home, amended the application, came back fully. Unfortunately for us today, the High Court of Fako declined jurisdiction because the said Madam Antoinette had already been charged before the Military Tribunal.”
“The military tribunal does not have the mandate to hear applications of habeas corpus, so it is the sole preserve of the Fako High Court. For the Fako High Court to decline jurisdiction is a little bit funny; because the issue of illegality of her arrest has nothing to do with the detention of Madam Antoinette.”
The legal minds have continued arguing that the court failed to look into the circumstances under which she was arrested, as it is the case with habeas corpus suits, but only went on to rule that she be continuously detained during the six months of investigations.
“We are not very satisfied,” said Barrister Ewule, “with the issues that were addressed by the High Court of Fako today by His Lordship Justice Anne Afong, because the issue of the illegal arrest of Madam Kongnso Antoinette was not touched by the judge. The judge refused to touch on the issue of the illegal arrest, and was instead looking at the issue of the detention. If you look at section 584 and 585 of the CPC it talks of habeas corpus looking at the illegal – the judge must look at the illegal arrest.”
He added: “We are saying that the person who did the arrest did not have the power to do the arrest. The judge went on to say that she has been charged before the military court for failure to report terrorism, and we are still waiting to see. She was remanded in prison custody on the 8 October 2021. Since she was remanded, she was eight months pregnant. She is being charged under section 107 and section 74(2). If you are charged under those sections, it’s a misdemeanour and she was supposed to be granted bail.”
Antoinette Kongnso Gohla, was arrested from her abode at Sandpit – Buea on October 2 by Cameroonian soldier and Bwassa village Chief, John Ewome Eko, also called Moja Moja.
In a video he circulated on social media, Chief Ewome said he had arrested the wife of separatist “general” No Pity, although the woman currently lives with Clovis Sima, with whom she has children, and is traditionally married to.
“The sole issue for determination, which is what the habeas corpus was to address, was whether the arrest of Madam Antoinette was within the bounds of the law. Should Chief Moja Moja be given the mandate to arrest civilians in this country? …that was the sole question before the High Court of Fako. We expected the High Court of Fako to rule on that issue,” said Barrister Ligenju who is also a human rights advocate.
Child’s Right To Liberty, Healthy Environment Violated
Rights defenders are also concerned about the rights of Kongnso’s one-week-old child who is being detained alongside her mother at the Buea Central Prison.
Article 25 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.”
Born in detention, the baby enjoys no freedom, like her mother, despite committing no offense.
“If you lock up a pregnant woman you are detaining two people: the innocent child and he lady. In a bail-able offense they were supposed to bail her,” Ewule said.
According to Sally Ndape, women’s rights advocate, “Seeing that the child is also locked up at the Central Prison is the violation of human rights. It is a call that we are calling on the State: Antoinette should be released.”
Sally, who has also been following up the case since its first court appearance, said she was delighted seeing Kongnso in court for the first time. After interacting her, she observed that, “Her state today wasn’t a good one since the day she even put to birth… she is traumatised; she really needs psychosocial support that will provide trauma healing. Because where she is, she is devastated.”
Kongnso and her daughter were taken back to the Central Prison after Tuesday’s court session and there are little hopes she will be released until April 2022.
Contrary to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, Kongnso was subjected to physical torture by the BIR officer who arrested her without a warrant. Pregnant at the time, she was kicked severally in the stomach.
Article 15, the Convention Against Torture further states: “Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.” In Kongnso’s case, she was even made to sign a statement in a language she neither speaks nor understands.
Again, her charge at the military tribunal, she has been charged with a misdemeanour “failure to report terrorism” which seems ridiculous because the man she was supposed to report is her ex-boyfriend of four years ago. The court gives the impression that Kongnso was supposed to know that her boyfriend of four years ago will one day be a separatist, and, as such, should have reported to them.
It also looks cruel for a pregnant woman to be tortured, and ordered to be detained for six months alongside a new-born on a misdemeanour charge, after which the investigating magistrate goes on searching for other charges against her.