Four Cameroonian soldiers received 10-year prison sentences Monday for the killing of two women and two children in an incident that sparked international insurgency, their lawyers said.
They and three other soldiers were arrested after a video surfaced on social media in July 2018 showing uniformed men leveling rifles and firing at the victims, one of whom had a baby strapped to his back.
The video was one of several that emerged in recent years with alleged atrocities by Cameroonian forces during operations against Islamist Boko Haram militants in the north and English separatists in the west.
The trial started in January and has been conducted behind closed doors. On Monday, the court found three of the soldiers guilty of murder, while their commander Etienne Fabassou was found guilty of complicity in murder, according to his lawyer Sylvestre Mbeng.
All four were given ten years.
Another soldier received a two-year sentence for violating orders, while two others were found not guilty on all counts and released, Mbeng told Reuters.
In July 2018, a scary video began circulating on social media.
2 women and 2 small children are led away by a group of soldiers. They are blindfolded, forced to the ground and shot 22 times. #BBCAfricaEye investigated this cruelty. This is what we found … pic.twitter.com/oFEYnTLT6z
– BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
Under Cameroonian law, some of the defendants could have faced the death penalty, although Cameroon has not executed anyone since 1997.
Mbeng said Fabassou would likely appeal the verdict, as witnesses gave conflicting accounts of whether he gave the order to shoot.
Government and military officials initially dismissed the video as “fake news”.
But the possible arrest and prosecution of the soldiers was welcomed by activists, including Amnesty International, who accuse government soldiers of repeatedly being involved in torture and extrajudicial killings in the far north.
The government denies systematic abuse.
“All victims of human rights abuses committed by the Cameroonian security forces in the fight against Boko Haram deserve just justice from ordinary courts,” said Amnesty Regional Director Samira Daoud in response to the decision.