Nasako Besingi tells a press briefing about the impacts of the Herakles Farms palm oil plantation in Cameroon
A campaigner against a controversial palm oil plantation in
Cameroon has been arrested amid growing political tensions in the West African
Nasako Besingi led community opposition to a plantation
owned by a subsidiary of US firm Herakles Farms, which has been accused
of a string of illegalities since acquiring a 73,000 hectare
concession in 2009.
Police raided Besingi’s office on 25 September, seizing his
passport, documents, phones and computers. He was arrested on suspicion of
sedition, a charge related to ongoing protests demanding greater representation
of the country’s anglophone community, which has led to a crackdown on
environmental and human rights activists. He remained in jail through
a conference on land grabbing he was due to attend on 24 October.
Besingi has previously been prosecuted for his activism and
local sources told the
Guardian his arrest was “a continuation of the intimidations against
him.” In January 2016, he was ordered to pay a fine of US$600 or serve a year’s
imprisonment after losing a defamation case brought by Herakles. The case concerned
an article in which Besingi described a violent attack he suffered in 2012,
claiming that he recognised his assailants as employees of the firm.
Following the trial, Greenpeace
condemned what it saw as attempts by the palm oil firm to silence
“Nasako has committed no crime other than exercising his
democratic right to protest at what he believes to be a project detrimental to
his community, his environment and local livelihoods,” Irène Wabiwa Betoko, a
forest campaign manager at Greenpeace Africa, said at the time.
The Cameroonian government issued a 73,000 hectare permit to Herakles subsidiary SGSOC in 2009, later reduced to 20,000 hectares following local protests. The concession was almost entirely forested and home to populations of chimpanzees and forest elephants. Local communities claimed their lands had been acquired by the company in the absence of any consultation.
Greenpeace subsequently crowned Herakles “champions of illegal deforestation” after they committed a series of illegalities on the concession. In 2012, local courts fined the firm $48,000 for clear-felling forest and establishing oil palm nurseries before conducting legally required environmental assessments. Greenpeace research found that Herakles had colluded with the Ministry of Forestry to unlawfully obtain a logging permit allowing it to clear-cut 2,500 hectares of forest and export the valuable timber, while paying 17 times fewer royalties to local communities than average.