January 31, 2017
President Paul Biya
President of the Republic of Cameroon
P.O. Box 100
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, write to urge you to instruct military prosecutors to drop charges against Ahmed Abba–a correspondent for Radio France Internationale’s Hausa-language service who has been jailed for 18 months–so that he can be released without further delay. The journalist’s trial before a military tribunal is scheduled to resume on February 2.
Abba reported on the plight of those forced from their homes by conflict and on attacks the militant group Boko Haram, which has renamed itself the Islamic State in West Africa, perpetrated in the north of Cameroon. Security forces arrested Abba on July 30, 2015, as he left a press conference in Maroua, RFI told CPJ. Authorities denied him contact with the outside world or access to his lawyer until October 19 of that year, and did not take a statement from him until November 13, more than three months after his arrest, which violates Cameroonian law, according to his lawyer, Charles Tchoungang.
A military court on February 29, 2016, charged Abba with “complicity” with and “non-denunciation of acts of terrorism” for failing to tell authorities his reporting had brought him in contact with the group, according to media reports. The journalist pleaded “not guilty” at an August 3, 2016, hearing. Abba’s case has been postponed 11 times while the military tribunal awaits technical evidence to support the grave charges against him.
In December 2016, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault publicly called for the journalist’s release. European Union diplomats have attended his military tribunal, according to press reports.
Abba should not have spent a single day behind bars simply for doing his job: reporting on issues and events of serious domestic and international concern. Journalists sometimes must speak with dangerous people in the course of their reporting, and cannot work effectively if they are expected or even suspected to be government informants.
The use of military courts to try civilians runs afoul of human rights law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Cameroon ratified in 1989. In its Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights clearly said, “Military courts should not in any circumstances whatsoever have jurisdiction over civilians.”
Abba’s continued detention, his military trial, and the charges against him are an injustice that you have the power to end. We therefore ask that you urgently instruct military prosecutors to drop all charges against Abba and to release him immediately.
Africa Program Coordinator
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat
African Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Faith Pansy Tlakula
Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations Michel Tommo Monthe