CPJ requests information on jailed Cameroonian journalists
March 1, 2017
Issa Tchiroma Bakary
Minister of Communication
Hotel de Ville
Via fax: +237 222 23 30 22;
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, are concerned about compounding reports of measures to restrict the media in Cameroon, and request clarification regarding the reported imprisonment of at least eight journalists in the country.
During our conversation on February 15, you told us that Cameroon's government was "completely transparent" and that "people can speak their mind." You further said no journalist was in prison in Cameroon and that journalists should not "pretend to be arrested for their work." You requested that we forward you a list of detained journalists. We did this privately the same day and repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to follow up with you directly.
On February 20, the National Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF), an official body, confirmed the detention of at least five journalists. Since then we have heard reports of at least three other journalists jailed in Cameroon. We therefore request your assistance in reconciling your contention that no journalists are jailed in Cameroon with the conclusions of NCHRF, and request clarification on the location of the following journalists, any criminal charges against them, what alleged activities gave rise to those charges, and the status of any criminal proceedings against them:
- Atia Azohnwi, a journalist with The Sun newspaper and the Buea head of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists, whom security forces arrested with Amos Fofung on February 9, 2017, in Molyko, according to the NCHRF. According to a statement published on The Sun's Facebook page, security forces took Azohnwi, The Sun's political desk editor, to the Molyko precinct and then to the Judicial Police in Buea, before transferring him to the Judicial Police station in Yaoundé.
- Amos Fofung, Buea bureau chief of The Guardian Post, whom security forces arrested with Atia Azohnwi on February 9, 2017, in Molyko, according to the NCHRF. According to The Sun's Facebook page, police first held him in Molyko before transferring him to the Judicial Police station in Buea, and then in Yaoundé.
- Thomas Awah Junior, a journalist for and publisher of the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine, whom police arrested in Bamenda on January 2, was transferred to Yaoundé that evening before being sent to Kondengui Central prison two weeks later, a Yaoundé based Cameroonian journalist told CPJ, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Awah Junior remains in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé according to a Yaoundé Military Tribunal document published by Cameroonian blogger Albert Nchinda.
- Mfor Ndong, publisher of the Bamenda-based newspaper Voice of the Voiceless, whom security forces arrested in Buea on February 9, 2017, according to the NCHRF.
- Hans Achumba, a journalist for Jakiri Community Radio in the Bui Division of the Northwest Region of Cameroon, whom police arrested on allegations of spreading opposition lawmaker Joseph Wirba's calls to resist the government in Yaoundé, according to the NCHRF. Achumba remains in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, according to the Yaoundé Military Tribunal document and a Cameroonian journalist who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution.
- Tim Finnian, publisher of Life Time newspaper, whom security forces arrested on January 27, 2017, three days after he published an article alleging two English-speaking youths had died in state custody, according to an English-language Cameroonian newspaper The Star. He too has been transferred to Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, according to the same military court document and additional Cameroonian journalists who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution.
- Jean Claude Agbortem, co-founder of the online magazine Camer Veritas, whom police arrested on January 28, 2017, according to Nchinda.
- Medjo Lewis, editor of La Détente Libre, whom police arrested on February 22, 2017, and whom the Bafoussam High Court sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 10 million Central African francs (US $16,131) for defamation, according to two Cameroonian journalists who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution.
In recent months, the government has taken increasingly drastic steps to suppress the rights to transmit and receive information in Cameroon, particularly in predominantly Anglophone regions. Media outlets have been suspended, and journalists have been banned from practicing their craft, according to CPJ research. The internet has been inaccessible to residents of the northwestern and southwestern regions of Cameroon since January 17, 2017--"an appalling violation of [the] right to freedom of expression," as U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye noted on February 10, 2017.
Particularly in light of these measures to restrict the media, we are concerned that Atia Azohnwi, Amos Fofung, Thomas Awah Junior, Mfor Ndong, Hans Achumba, Tim Finnian, Jean Claude Agbortem, and Medjo Lewis are imprisoned for their work as journalists, and respectfully ask that you clarify the reasons for their detention, where they are held, and their current legal status.
Africa Program Coordinator
Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights
Dr. Divine Chemuta Banda, Chairman, National Commission of Human Rights and Freedoms in Cameroon
David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Simon Lyonga, National President, Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalist (CAMASEJ)
Moussa Faki Mahamat, African Union Commission Chairman
Michel Tommo Monthé, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations
Georges Nakseu, Directeur, Démocratie et Droits de l'Homme, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie
Denis Nkwebo, President, Cameroon Union of Journalists
Faith Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights