Warning: “Graphic images”
A video shows a man, stripped naked and writhing on the ground, parts of his body burnt and lacerated, as an out-of-control mob continues to attack him. This footage, filmed in Douala and sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers, shows the horror of Cameroon’s frequent instances of “vigilante justice”.
The 10-minute video, filmed on a mobile phone, was published without indication as to the date or exact location. The person who filmed it described the act as “vigilante justice”.
The gruesome footage, which FRANCE 24 decided to only show screenshots from, shows a naked man lying in mud and apparently unconscious. He bears wounds on his legs and torso and is surrounded by a crowd. Tyres burn around him. Men slam rocks on his body, and then a motorcycle runs him over. A policeman in uniform tries to calm the crowd and recover the man’s body.
Thieves are frequently lynched in Cameroon. In 2012, Amnesty International condemned the frequent practice of “stripping, humiliating, and insulting” people in Cameroon in cases of “personal vendettas over theft”. A blogger for RFI radio reported on a similar incident that took place in Douala last January.
The government of Cameroon regularly tries to put a halt to these vengeful acts: in May 2012, Justice Minister Laurent Esso stated that “informal” justice was illegal under the country’s new criminal code and that “law enforcement would be obligated to prosecute all those attempting vigilante justice”.
“He stole a gold chain and a mobile phone”
Jean D. lives in Douala. He went to the Brazzaville neighbourhood on Monday and spoke to eyewitnesses to understand what happened.
On the scene, there were still burnt tyres and pieces of scrap metal lying around. According to the witnesses with whom I spoke, it happened on Saturday, June 22.
The man who was lynched was well known in the neighbourhood. He went by the name of Solo. He had just gotten out of prison for assault and theft. On June 21, there was a funeral wake, as there often are at the local square. During this wake, the man allegedly stole a gold chain and a mobile phone before fleeing. Irate local residents swore that they would get their revenge the following day.
They managed to find him early the next morning. According to them, he was wearing the stolen necklace and had the SIM card of the phone he had taken. When the victim of the theft got her belongings back, she told the others: “All right, you can let him go now”. But the others replied that this was not the first time he had behaved like this, that they could not trust the police or the judicial system to punish him, and that they had had it with him.
“People in the crowd were yelling, ‘How come he’s still breathing? We need to be rid of him!’”
They brought him to the square and started beating him with sticks and clubs. Then they poured gasoline over him, placed him on a pile of tyres, and set it on fire. The thief stayed lying there all morning, amid a crowd that continued to torture him, until the police arrived around 2 p.m.
He appeared to be still alive when the police arrived [he can be seen convulsing in the video]. People in the crowd were yelling, “How come he’s still breathing? We need to be rid of him!” I spoke with a local resident who said he had thought about telling the perpetrators that a human being, even if he had stolen something, did not deserve such a fate. But he didn’t do it, for fear of being lynched himself if he came to the man’s defence.
“Even when the police came, people kept throwing rocks at him”
The police had a really hard time calming the crowd down. People kept throwing rocks at the man on the ground, or running over him with a motorcycle, without the police doing anything to stop them. His body was finally dragged to a nearby car, but it was not a police vehicle.
I spoke with the victim’s sister, who confirmed that her brother died before he could get to the hospital [Editor’s Note: The police claim that they brought the man to the Laquintinie hospital, yet hospital representatives told FRANCE 24 that their staff never saw the man]. According to his sister, the victim was buried the following day in his native village.
Such incidents of vigilante justice are very common in Douala. People believe that thieves are not punished severely enough and that they never serve their entire prison sentence.