A military court in Cameroon on Wednesday sentenced three students to prison for sharing a joke about Nigerian-based Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. The three students, Fomusoh Ivo Feh, Afuh Nivelle Nfor, and Azah Levis Gobwere were each sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Military Court of Yaounde for “non-denunciation of terrorist acts.”
Feh forwarded a text message to his two friends that made a sarcastic reference to Boko Haram, according to statement released by human rights group Amnesty International.
Feh was heading to class when he sent the text that joked that even Boko Haram wouldn’t hire students unless they passed five high school subjects. Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa Samira Daoud noted that “[Feh] and his two friends should never have been arrested in the first place, as they were simply exercising their right to freedom of expression. Instead of being in school like their friends, these three young men will now spend years of their lives in prison for a simple joke.”
On its website, Amnesty International says it considers Feh a prisoner of conscience, meaning that he has been imprisoned for holding political or religious views that are not tolerated by the government. Feh was first arrested in December 2014 and was held in police custody in Douala before being transferred to Yaoundé prison in January 2015.
The human rights group has called for the unconditional release of the three men, pointing out that their sentencing raises concerns about trials of civilians in military courts.
Amnesty International says legal proceedings involving “acts of terrorism” in Cameroonian military courts fail to meet international fair trial standards. The rights group says it believes that those who have been brought to court under charges of supporting Boko Haram insurgents have faced unfair trials in which the burden of proof is placed on the accused.