International Civil Society Alarmed by Conviction of Cameroonian Environmental Human Rights Defender
Oakland, CA—Cameroonian authorities must stop the harassment of Nasako Besingi, environmental human rights defender, according to an international coalition of civil society organizations including the Oakland Institute, Forest Peoples Programme, Grain, Save Wildlife Foundation, Cultural Survival, Greenpeace Africa, and the Environmental Investigation Agency.
The call comes following the conviction of Nasako Besingi, the director of Cameroonian NGO SEFE in the town of Mundemba, after a protracted and controversial legal process on two counts of propagation of false news against the US agribusiness company, Herakles Farms, and two counts of defamation against two employees of the company. After more than 3 years and multiple judicial delays, Besingi has been ordered to pay 1,200,000 FCFA ($2,400) in fines or face up to 3 years in prison. He was also sentenced to pay damages of 10 million CFA francs ($17,000) to the two civil parties.
“I am very surprised by the judgement, the charges against Nasako were trumped up charges and meant to put him away.” Barrister Adolf Malle, Nasako's lawyer. “We will appeal the judgement in the coming days.”
Besingi was awarded the 2012 TAIGO prize for non-state actors and was nominated in 2014 as one of the most notable human rights defenders by the Jeune Afrique newspaper. Besingi and his colleagues have long campaigned against the establishment of a large industrial palm oil plantation in the area by Herakles Farms' local subsidiary SGSOC. The project has been pushed through despite the opposition of local communities who face loss of farmland and livelihoods. It will also destroy tracts of dense rainforest that are home to endangered wildlife including the chimpanzee.
Besingi has been assaulted, arrested without charge and routinely threatened by employees of Herakles Farms. His conviction is only the first result of a series of pending legal actions against him and he could yet face further sanctions.
“Given the serious wrongdoings of Herakles Farms' in Cameroon, as exposed by our research, it is outrageous that land rights defenders like Nasako Besingi are sent to jail, while the executives of companies operating illegally, responsible for environmental destruction and loss of locals' livelihoods, are running free,” says Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.