Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, a news broadcaster for privately owned Abakwa FM Radio in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest Region, was arrested on March 20, 2018, in the city of Bamenda, his lawyer Joseph Fru told CPJ. Judicial police detained McCarthy, who also contributes to the privately owned news website Bamenda Online, without access to a lawyer or external communication for three weeks on suspicion of attempted secession and disseminating secessionist propaganda on air before he appeared at a military tribunal on April 10, Fru said.
The investigating magistrate, Samuel Honore, ordered that McCarthy be held in custody in Bamenda Central Prison for a renewable six-month period while police investigated claims he had aired secessionist propaganda, Fru said.
After seven months in detention without trial McCarthy was handed a charge sheet in prison on September 3 by a military court registrar and advised that he would be brought before a military court “soon.” The journalist was charged with attempted secession, illegal monitoring of military activity in the town of Bamenda, and propagating false information, according to Fru and a copy of the charge sheet seen by CPJ.
The indictment, written in French, included an oral statement that the English-speaking McCarthy purportedly made to the French-speaking examining magistrate. “He [McCarthy] spoke in English and the magistrate wrote in French without a translator. There are so many errors that the document seemingly does not reflect his statement,” Fru told CPJ. McCarthy appeared in court on November 15 and entered a not guilty plea, while his defense filed a detailed discovery request for all evidence in the state’s possession, Fru said. McCarthy was expected to appear in court again on December 13, the lawyer said.
McCarthy was arrested while he filmed police as they allegedly harassed taxi drivers and commuters in Bamenda, according to the independent Cameroon News Agency and Fru.
McCarthy reported in pidgin language for Abakwa FM Radio, which also publishes news on its Facebook page.
During questioning, judicial police accused McCarthy of being sympathetic in his reporting toward the self-proclaimed interim government of Ambazonia, a person familiar with the case who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal told CPJ. McCarthy was offered clemency if he pleaded guilty and apologized to the state, which the journalist refused to do, the same person said. Ambazonia is the name that secessionists use to refer to Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, which the secessionists declared independent on October 1, 2017.
On November 24, 2017, gendarmeries raided McCarthy’s home, beat the journalist, and accused him of being an "Amba terrorist," according to news reports and conversations CPJ had with the journalist at the time. McCarthy told CPJ last year that his phone, laptop, audio recorder, and cash were seized in the raid.
McCarthy was suspended by his previous employer, the privately owned Ndefcam Radio in Bamenda, after complaints by Northwest regional authorities about his reporting on the crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, he said. This was confirmed by Ndefcam Radio’s editor-in-chief, Edmond Nde, who told CPJ that McCarthy invited on one of his shows, “Good Morning Bamenda,” views from listeners about the crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. “Callers came up with diverse views that the regional administration thought was unprofessional. This prompted them to sanction the radio. From then, I had to give him a suspension of eight days to save the station,” Nde said.
Cameroon’s communication minister and government spokesman, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, did not reply to numerous calls, texts, and WhatsApp messages, as well as an email to his personal assistant, requesting comment.