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The suspension of a university professor’s classes in Cameroon has raised fears that the government wants to silence those who dare raise the subject of the country’s Anglophone crisis. 

Felix Agbor Nkongho, also known as Agbor-Balla, in Douala, Cameroon, December 2019. © 2019 Private

Since late 2016, Anglophone regions of Cameroon have been gripped in violence between government forces and armed groups seeking a separate state. The crisis has claimed thousands of lives.

The government has repeatedly denied that its security forces have committed abuses during the crisis, but now it seems to be taking matters even further.

On April 20, the minister of higher education sent a letter to Buea University alleging that law professor Felix Agbor Nkongho, also known as Agbor-Balla, breached “the university's code of ethics and conduct” and called on the head of the university to take measures. Agbor-Balla’s classes were then suspended.

Agbor-Balla told Human Rights Watch that he believes the suspension of his classes was because of an assignment in which he asked students to explore the reasons behind the Anglophone crisis. He added that it was only meant to get the law students to think critically and put the crisis into a legal context.

“I don’t discuss politics in the classroom,” he said.

A Ministry of Higher Education representative told Radio France International that Agbor-Balla had “turned a classroom into a political space.”

It is not the first time teachers got into trouble for discussing current events in Cameroon. On September 13, 2019, a teacher at the high school in Avebe-Esse, a village in the South region, was arrested after mentioning in class that the government was considering allowing jailed opposition leader Maurice Kamto to participate in a national dialogue. The teacher was released five days later.

Agbor-Balla had been arrested in January 2017 for leading peaceful protests in Buea along with other Anglophone activists. Charged by a military court under the anti-terrorism law, he was eventually released in August 2017 and all charges were dropped.

Since then, he has advocated for upholding human rights during the crisis, denouncing abuses by both the military and the armed separatists.

University students should be encouraged to debate the most pressing issues of the day. The suspension of Agbor-Balla’s courses shows the government wants to stifle that debate.

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