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Aboubacar Siddiki Babadji, known as Babadjo. © 2020 Private

Aboubacar Siddiki, known as Babadjo, was released from prison in Cameroon on June 21 after serving a three-month sentence for insulting a local governor. Moments after he stepped out of the prison he was rearrested on charges of disturbing public order, demonstration, and hate speech. Babadjo’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that these charges are based on claims by the Cameroonian intelligence service that Babadjo’s supporters were planning to demonstrate to celebrate his release.  

Babadjo, a member of the National Union for Democracy and Progress (Union nationale pour la démocratie et le progrès), was first arrested on March 8 at his home in the city of N'Gaoundéré, in the region of Adamawa, after he criticized the region’s governor on a WhatsApp group. His friends and local human rights defenders told Human Rights Watch that the governor ordered his arrest.

That wasn’t Babadjo’s first run-in with authorities. In 2020, he was arrested for a song he released that criticized local officials. He is currently detained at the gendarmerie headquarters in N'Gaoundéré. On June 24, his lawyer filed a habeas corpus petition before the high court, which is expected to rule on the case on July 4. Babadjo, his relatives and friends said, has diabetes and requires specialized medical care.

“This latest arrest of Babadjo exemplifies the government’s repression towards opposition and dissenting voices,” said Aboubakary Siddiki, president of another opposition party in northern Cameroon, Mouvement patriotique du salut camerounais. “The crackdown is increasing ahead of the 2025 vote as we see political meetings and political coalitions banned.”

Cameroonian authorities have cracked down on opposition and dissent for many years. In March, the territorial administration minister, Paul Atanga Nji, banned two opposition coalitions, the Political Alliance for Change (Alliance politique pour le changement), led by Jean-Michel Nintcheu, and the Political Alliance for Transition in Cameroon (Alliance politique pour la transition), led by Olivier Bile.

Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, 91, in power since 1982, is serving his seventh term. He was last re-elected in 2018 after a contested vote-counting process which sparked a wave of political repression and a lethal crackdown on peaceful protests.

That Babadjo was rearrested as he left prison underscores how the Cameroonian authorities are silencing freedom of expression in the country. Authorities should release Babadjo, drop the charges against him, and ensure he has access to adequate health care while in detention.

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