New York, April 1, 2011—Using a vague criminal code provision allowing authorities to detain individuals deemed a threat to public order, a provincial governor in Cameroon threw a journalist in prison on Wednesday for inquiring about the arrests of two employees of a state-run palm oil company, according to local journalists.
In a statement, the local press union Network of Journalists of The North said Adamawa Gov. Enow Abraham Egbe ordered a five-day detention for reporter Lamissia Adoularc, a correspondent for the daily Le Jour to “ensure the protection of the journalist.” Adoularc was being held without charge at the central prison in the northeast town of Ngaoundéré, Denis Nkwebo, the paper’s editor-in-chief, told CPJ today. The governor did not explain why the journalist would need protection.
Agents with the intelligence bureau DGRE took Adoular into custody after he had made routine inquiries at the bureau about the arrests of two employees of Pamol Plantations Limited, a grower of oil palm trees, according to local journalists. DGRE agents intercepted the two employees as they transported 150 youths from the Extreme North province to work in Pamol’s plantations in Southwest province, according to the same sources. DGRE agents briefly detained the Pamol employees on accusations of “fomenting a rebellion against the government.”
Adoular was held under “administrative detention,” an exceptional power of arrest given to local authorities to address emergency situations such as threats to public order or organized crime, prominent Cameroonian lawyer Jean-Marie Nouga told CPJ. The vague wording of the provision and the absence of any check could lead to abusive interpretation, he said.
“Jailing a journalist for asking a question and then pretending that the detention is for the reporter’s own safety is beyond belief,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The governor of Adamawa Region must order the release of Lamissia Adoularc immediately. We hold him responsible for our colleague’s welfare.”
The DGRE has been involved in abusive detentions of journalists and has been accused of engaging in torture, according to CPJ research.
Nervous about the potential for protests similar to those in North Africa and the Middle East, Cameroonian authorities banned a SMS-to-Twitter service last month. Authorities have also banned a newspaper amid legal harassment of journalists investigating public corruption.