New York, July 14, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls for the immediate release of two BBC journalists arrested on Sunday, July 11, while reporting in the Bakassi peninsular, a disputed territory between Cameroon and Nigeria. The BBC confirmed today that producer Farouk Chothia and reporter Ange Ngu Thomas are being held under house arrest in Limbe, in southwest Cameroon.
The two journalists arrived in Bakassi on Saturday, July 10, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and CPJ sources. They had received signed authorization from Cameroon’s Communications Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo to travel to the area but were arrested by Cameroonian soldiers when they began work on Sunday and then taken to Limbe.
Cameroonian gendarmes who questioned the journalists for two hours yesterday accused them of spying, according a CPJ source. Soldiers also confiscated their equipment, identity papers, and authorization to report in Bakassi, AFP reported. The journalists have not been charged, and in a statement, the BBC said it is working to get them released.
The BBC statement also confirmed that the two journalists had gone to Bakassi to cover the handover of the oil-rich area to Cameroon. A 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague awarded the disputed territory to Cameroon, and Nigerian troops are due to pull out by September 15. However, Nigerian communities on the peninsular are unhappy with the ruling.
“Our colleagues Farouk Chothia and Ange Ngu Thomas should be released immediately,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Journalists should be allowed to report freely in Bakassi in the run-up to the handover.”