A military court in Cameroon has handed down life sentences to the head of the country’s anglophone separatist movement, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, and nine of his followers, lawyers said.
The 10 were convicted of charges including “terrorism and secession”, government lawyer Martin Luther Achet told AFP news agency on Tuesday.
Ayuk Tabe was the first self-proclaimed president of “Ambazonia”, a breakaway state declared in October 2017 in two English-speaking regions of the central African country.
The government responded with a military crackdown.
Attacks by both sides have left hundreds dead and forced nearly 500,000 people from their homes, according to independent monitors.
English-speakers account for about a fifth of the 24 million people in Cameroon, where the French-speaking are in majority.
Anglophones are mainly concentrated in two western areas, the Northwest Region and the Southwest Region, that were incorporated into the French-speaking state after the colonial era in Africa wound down six decades ago.
Anglophones have chafed for years at perceived discrimination in education, law and economic opportunities at the hands of the francophone majority.
But the government has rejected demands for autonomy and dispatched thousands of troops to the region after the “Republic of Ambazonia” – an entity not recognised internationally – was proclaimed in October 2017.
Ayuk Tabe, who is part of the political branch of the separatist group that supports dialogue with President Paul Biya, was arrested in January last year with 46 other separatists in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
They were then handed over to Cameroon, a move ruled illegal by a Nigerian court in March this year.
In May, Ayuk Tabe said he was willing to take part in talks with the government, provided they took place abroad and the government released all the people detained since the start of the anglophone crisis.
Last month, Human Rights Watch accused the security forces of committing “brazen crimes” against the citizens, including unlawful killings and use of excessive force.