Teachers in open societies around the world push their students to think critically about current events. But those in Cameroon might be thinking twice after one of them was arrested for doing just that.

Fondang Mesaack Nathan while in detention at the Gendarmerie Station in Sangmélima, South Region, Cameroon on September 14, 2019.

© 2019 Private

On September 13, Fondang Mesaack Nathan, an English teacher at the high school in Avebe-Esse, a village in Cameroon’s South region, was arrested after mentioning in class that the government may consider allowing jailed opposition leader Maurice Kamto to participate in a national dialogue. The dialogue is to address the ongoing crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions. After all, Fondang reasoned with a student, if the government was going to sit down and talk to armed groups, it could feasibly do so with political opponents.

Word spread from the classroom that Kamto was discussed, local authorities got involved, and by the next morning Fondang was in jail, accused of inciting rebellion.

The vice-prefect, a local administrator, arrested him. Fondang’s lawyer contends that as he was arrested by a local official with no authority to do so, his arrest was unlawful. A petition filed by his lawyer secured his release on September 18, but he is only free on a conditional basis, and he has been instructed not to travel. Teachers at Avebe-Esse High School went on strike for two days to protest the arrest.

Fondang’s arrest is just the latest example of the increasingly restrictive political space in Cameroon. Under international human rights law to which Cameroon is bound, arresting teachers for their peaceful speech violates their right to free expression. Raising current events in class is not rebellion.