Prisoner of Conscience
In Chapter 8 // Part II of Dog Days, it becomes apparent how fickle and temperamental law enforcement officers can be during such a debilitating economic crisis. Specifically, we see Etienne lose his cool when somebody (Doctor’s son Takou) refers to him by his first name, which to me illustrates the “societal incoherence” of the times where people weren’t able to distinguish between right versus wrong. Outraged by somebody’s audacity to address him by his first name instead of “Police Commissioner,” he blames the Cigarette Vendor and haphazardly decides to arrest him. However, when the enigmatic Crow arrives to the scene, he, too, gets in trouble when he coyly asks Etienne if he has a warrant for the Cigarette Vendor’s arrest. (96) In no time at all Crow is also taken into custody under the premise of being a member of “the opposition.” (97) In this regard, Crow becomes a “Prisoner of Conscience-” an appropriate term for the events that unfold throughout Dog Days.
Amnesty International defines a prisoner of conscience as somebody who is wrongfully jailed based on their perceived race, sexual orientation, religion, or in this case, political views. The term was tokened by Peter Benenson in his 1961 article entitled “The Forgotten Prisoners” and relates to those jailed simply for voicing their unfavorable opinion on certain “taboo” or “off-limit” matters. Often prisoners of conscience are individuals incarcerated for questioning the status-quo of their authoritarian or totalitarian leaders- political figures who use censorship as a means to preserve power- like Paul Biya and his 30+ year tenure as the incumbent president of Cameroon.
Arrests such as Cigarette Vendor’s and Crow’s were not uncommon. For example, one of the most well-known cases of the Biya’s administration abuse of power was back in November of 2010. From my understanding, a writer by the name of Bertrand Teyou was arrested and jailed for the publication of book entitled La Belle de la Republique Bananière: Chantal Biya – de la rue au Palais = The Belle of the Banana Republic: Chantal Biya, From the Streets to the Palace. As some of you may have already inferred, Chantal Biya is the wife of Paul Biya.
With an immense head of Dolly Parton-esque hair, Chantal Biya opposed this “unlawful” publication that delved into scrutinizing detail regarding her humble beginnings as an impoverish villager in eastern Cameroon. Apparently the books investigates exactly how she managed to achieve such high levels of affluence, which according to Teyou, was solely based off her good looks. In addition, Teyou critiques the lack of administrative transparency of her charitable foundations (making it clear that he suspected her funds to be funnelled from public money expenditures) to RUMORS surrounding her hidden motives to alter the nation’s constitution that would theoretically allow her to inherit the role of president from her husband ~ if need be.
Due to her high levels of opposition, the majority of these books were confiscated and destroyed before a book signing event happened in the coastal city of Douala. On top of this destruction of intellectual property, Teyou was arrested for “insult to character” and for orchestrating an “illegal demonstration-” at no other place than a book signing. Unable to pay a fine of $4,500, Teyou was sentenced to two years in prison and experienced grave health problems due to the maltreatment he received in the Cameroonian prison system. After many months of activism and protest, though, Teyou was released early when the London chapter of International PEN (a word wide group of activists and writers dedicated to ensuring peaceful exchanges of creative freedom) paid his fines.