Cameroon journalists questioned in military court for withholding information

Lagos, Nigeria, October 31, 2014–Two journalists in Cameroon accused of withholding information from the state have been interrogated by a military court and ordered not to leave the country, according to news reports.

A closed military court in Yaounde on Tuesday questioned for several hours Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola, a senior reporter for the privately owned daily newspaper Mutations and the president of Cameroon’s National Union of Journalists, and Rodrigue Tongue, a senior reporter and the head of the political desk for the privately owned daily Le Messager, according to news reports. A lecturer at a journalism school, Baba Wame, was also interrogated.

News reports citing an unnamed judicial source said the court found that the journalists had access to information about national security and had not informed the authorities. The reports did not elaborate. A report by the independent daily Cameroon Journal said the journalists were accused of possessing a document containing information about the health of President Paul Biya.

The court released both journalists the same day, barred them from reporting, and ordered them to report to the court every Monday as a guarantee that they would not flee the country, news reports said. The journalists were also told not to make any public comments about the case pending the conclusion of the investigation.

The news website Koaci, which covers news and culture, reported that journalists attempting to cover the court proceeding were barred from entering and at least one TV camera was confiscated. The report did not offer further details.

The journalists would be given 24-hour notice if they are required to appear in court for a trial, Claude Assira, Tongue’s lawyer, told CPJ.

“This interrogation may deter journalists and their sources from sharing information relating to national security, hampering the flow of news,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative. “We call on Cameroonian authorities to stop harassing Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola and Rodrigue Tongue and allow them to work and travel freely.”

Didier Badjeck, a military spokesman, told CPJ he was not authorized to speak about the case. Information Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakari did not respond to CPJ’s calls or text message.

Peter Essoka, the vice-president of the National Communications Council, the government regulator that hears complaints against the media, told CPJ that the council was investigating the matter as the military had not consulted with it before summoning the journalists to court.