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UN Censorship and Corruption: Cameroon, Part I, Southern Cameroons Protests, Lock Out

By Matthew Russell Lee, Part 2 here

UNITED NATIONS, October 10 – I want to cover meetings in the United Nations about Cameroon and Yemen, and protesters outside from the Anglophone zones of Southern Cameroon but I have a problem. Unlike the other journalists who cover the UN Security Council day to day, I no longer have my small office in the UN and therefore can only get to the meetings if I have a UN escort or minder. 

This is the Friday of the UN General Assembly's high level week, and they make me wait for my escort. Then they assign two minders to me, who quickly tell me I can't stand outside the meeting room and ask questions, even of those diplomats who want to speak with me.   

Disgusted, I leave the UN through the 47th street gate I came in through. Across First Avenue, past the NY Police Department panopticon that is raised up two stories high filming everything and separated from me by four lines of metal gates, I can see the Southern Cameroons protesters with their blue and white flags. “How can I get there?” I ask the UN Security guard who stands by the gate. Since I've had to come in through the metal detectors each day, this officer has three times made me empty my entire backpack, even made me open the sealed bottles of water I was bringing in.    

He gestures north on First Avenue. “You have to go to 49th Street,” he smirks, then adds the name the UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric calls me with apparent sarcasm, “Mister Lee.”   

I walk the two blocks then cross to the other side of First Avenue. But there's no getting through on 48th Street. The sidewalk in front of Trump World Tower is entirely sealed off. “You have to go to Second Avenue,” an NYPD officer tells me. I start jogging the long block, by the nearly empty Libya House tower. I want to film some of the protest and still get back in to ask questions at the UN noon briefing while I still can.   

In the protest pen the Southern Cameroonians are still pouring in, from vans from Maryland and Canada. Periscope videos here, here and here. A man from the former whom I've tweeted back and forth with calls people over. They tell me the killing has increased, even today, in the run up to the October 1st independence showdown. I'll need to process this. 

For now, I ask somewhat set up questions: What do you want the UN to do? To live up to the 1961 General Assembly resolution giving the right to self determination to then British Southern Cameroons. Do you think the UN did enough when Paul Biya, president of Cameroon for the last 35 years, cut off the Internet for 94 days this year? Of course not.   

It was that Internet cut which first got me into the Southern Cameroons issue. I started asking the UN about it, and soon found that the UN's Resident Coordinator in the country Najat Rochdi blocked me on Twitter. 

Even as the UN kept me restricted, I had the same access as other journalists at the International Monetary Fund, and got them to admit the Internet cut would have financial impacts. The Net was turned back on and it seemed the issue would fade into the background.  

But then Biya started killing again, locking up young activists, sending ostensibly elite BIR soldiers meant to fight Boko Haram into the Anglophone zones to loot and collect absurdly high bail, to hide the bodies of those they killed. And the UN was closing its eyes. I turn to go back in. But it will not be easy.

[End of Part 1; Part 2 is on Patreon, here.]


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