Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Bury playwright fights deportation through play

A Bury playwright facing deportation to Cameroon has used her latest play to highlight human rights abuses in the Central African state. On Friday 20 April Down with the Dictator will be performed for the first time in the north, a day when Lydia Besong and her husband Bernard Batey will also have their appeal hearing at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Manchester.

Cast for the play

The pair fled Cameroon late on 17 December 2006 and after journeying to Britain have been fighting a battle ever since not to be returned. As members of the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) they had been peacefully agitating for independence for southern Cameroon. They allege that as a result they were arrested, imprisoned and tortured by prison guards, including one who is accused of raping Lydia.

However when they presented their evidence to the Border and Immigration Agency (now UKBA) they were refused asylum. According to Kath Grant, press officer for Manchester-based human rights organisation RAPAR: “this was because of a Catch 22 situation in which it was said their documents couldn’t be trusted because of the serious levels of political corruption in Cameroon and yet it was also safe to be returned there!”

It is now hoped that “new information” will help Lydia and Bernard to convince the UKBA of their case. They have some well-known names supporting their application including author Michael Morpurgo, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and actress Juliet Stevenson.

Since 1982, power in Cameroon has rested firmly in the authoritarian grip of President Paul Biya, whose Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement was the only legal political party until 1990. The main opposition party since then, the Social Democratic Front has claimed that state organised voter intimidation prevented its leader John Fru Ndi from winning the 1992 presidential election.

The US-based non-governmental organisation ranks Cameroon as “not free” in terms of civil liberties and political right and last year Amnesty International reported ‘the government continued to curtail the SCNC activities, a non-violent secessionist group, whose members faced arrest and imprisonment.” Other political and civil society groups were also subject to “official sanction.” After altering the constitution limiting his term of office, Biya was again re-elected in an election, in which reporters from foreign newspapers queried the high turnout officially recorded.

Katherine Rogers from Community Arts North West, which along with dance company Afrocats is staging the play, said “it uses Lydia’s own experience and knowledge to lift the lid on politics in Cameroon, a country which most people here know little about. After its first showing in Bristol the audience remarked about how well acted it was. It’s hard hitting and realistic.”

Down with the Dictator is on at Bury Met on 20 April with further performances at Zion Arts Centre and Holy Innocent’s Church, Fallowfield on April 28 and May 5 respectively. £5 entry/£3 concessions.

SUPPORTERS WILL ALSO HOLD A VIGIL OUTSIDE TRIBUNAL OFFICES – 9.30am Friday, April 20th, Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, Moseley Street, Manchester 

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