Life Time editor detained without trial on terror charges in Cameroon

Authorities arrested Tim Finnian, editor of the weekly Cameroonian newspaper, Life Time, on January 26, 2017, over a report that he published alleging that two English-speaking youths had died in police custody, according to a journalist familiar with the case and reports.

Four men dressed in black forced Finnian into a car in Bamenda, which took him to a local police station where officers questioned him about the report, according to a journalist who has followed the case, but who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. Finnian was then transported to the capital, Yaoundé.

Police denied the journalist’s request to inform his wife he was being moved so that she could bring his medication, according to friends of Finnian’s and reports. The journalist has a chronic intestinal disease.

In Yaoundé, Finnian was detained at the national headquarters of the gendarmerie in an underground cell infested with mosquitos. Finnian managed to get a message to his daughter in Yaoundé to inform his wife of his detention. Friends who subsequently tried to visit him were turned away and were told that he was not being detained there, a journalist, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity, said.

Police questioned Finnian about his work with Life Time and told him that an article he published could “cause problems,” the journalist, who asked not to be named, said.

In an interview that Finnian gave to Journal du Cameroun while in detention, he said, “Gendarmerie officers told me I wrote a sensitive article which could spark a rebellion … We wrote a [correction] for the story as the law requires. I have my employment letter, which shows I am not the owner of the newspaper.”

Officers questioned Finnian for four days, asking him about who he worked with, the number of people he employed, and why he published the article. The people questioning him also asked why the source had given him the information and whether he was aware that the article could incite civil disobedience, according to the journalist who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity.

The newspaper suspended publication voluntarily in March, after Finnian’s arrest, a journalist familiar with the case, told CPJ.

Three weeks after his arrest, a military judge charged Finnian with acts of terrorism, insurrection, secession, and publication of false information.

Finnian is being held in Kondengui prison, in a cell that he shares with 14 others, while he awaits trial. Inmates at the prison receive one meal a day, and water is drawn from a borehole, a visitor to the prison, who asked not to be named, told CPJ. Authorities have denied Finnian medical treatment at least three times before he was taken to hospital in June 2017, according to the journalist who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity.

Cameroon’s president’s office and the official government spokesperson did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment about the treatment of journalists in custody.

Finnian appeared in court again on August 18, 2017 but the case was postponed to September 22, 2017. His request to be released on bail because of his medical condition was rejected, a journalist familiar with the case told CPJ.

Finnian launched Time Life magazine in 2003 as a quarterly publication, before turning it into the monthly Life Time in 2010. The paper later became a weekly, with a focus on investigations and exposing alleged corruption in Cameroon’s government and business sector.

The editor has faced legal action previously. In 2006, opposition Social Democratic Front chairman John Fru Ndi accused Finnian of civil defamation. Fru Ndi requested 25 million Central African Francs, (US$45,000) in damages over an article in his publication. After two years, a court threw the case out, a journalist familiar with the case, told CPJ.