BBC journalists released

New York, July 19, 2004—Farouk Chothia and Ange Ngu Thomas, two BBC journalists who were detained last week by Cameroonian soldiers in the disputed Bakassi peninsula and accused of spying, were released without charge on Friday, July 16, according to the BBC and international news reports. They are expected to arrive in the capital, Yaoundé, today.

Chothia, a producer and South African national based in London, and Thomas, a reporter based in the southwestern Cameroonian city of Douala, were arrested by Cameroonian soldiers on Sunday, July 11. They had traveled to Bakassi, an oil-rich territory claimed by both Cameroon and Nigeria, to report on the handover of the area to Cameroon.

The journalists were brought to Limbe, a coastal town in southwest Cameroon, where they were detained in a local hotel and questioned about their activities. CPJ sources say that the journalists were threatened during their interrogation and deprived of food for brief periods as leverage. During their detention, the journalists signed statements saying they were not spies.

Chothia and Thomas had obtained signed authorization from Cameroonian authorities to travel to Bakassi. Soldiers confiscated their authorization, equipment, and identity papers during the arrest. The equipment and identity papers were returned to the journalists after their release, according to a CPJ source.

A 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague awarded Bakassi to Cameroon, and Nigerian troops are due to pull out by September 15. However, Nigerian communities on the peninsula are unhappy with the ruling, and the handover remains a sensitive topic in both countries.

For more information about Farouk Chothia and Ange Ngu Thomas’ arrest, see CPJ’s July 14 alert.