Cameroonian authorities arrested journalist Emmanuel Mbombog Mbog Matip in August 2020. He is being held in pretrial detention on false news charges relating to his investigations into an alleged coup attempt in the country.
Mbombog Mbog Matip is the director of the privately owned CliMat Social newspaper, which halted publishing in 2019 due to financial difficulties, according to Alex Koko à Dang, a former editorial adviser of CliMat Social and the president of the National Union of Independent Journalists of Cameroon (SYNAJIC), a local press freedom group, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview and via messaging app.
Since his paper stopped publication, Mbombog Mbog Matip posted reporting on his personal Facebook page, where he has about 5,000 followers, Koko à Dang told CPJ. His posts frequently expressed support for Cameroonian President Paul Biya.
Mbombog Mbog Matip is also the president of the National League for Defense of the Rights of Disadvantaged People, a local advocacy group; his feet were amputated following a traffic accident, according to a letter from the journalist, which CPJ reviewed.
On August 17, 2020, six armed men in plainclothes arrested Mbombog Mbog Matip at his home in Yaoundé, the capital, according to a report by the privately owned CamerounWeb news website and the journalist’s letter.
The journalist was held at the State Secretariat for Defense until September 7, when he was brought before a military court judge, Misse Njone Jacques Baudouin, who charged him with “propagation of false news,” and ordered he be detained until March 7, 2021, according to a provisional detention order signed by Baudouin, which CPJ reviewed, and Koko à Dang. The September 7 detention order referred to Mbombog Mbog Matip as a “private journalist.”
Following that hearing, the journalist was transferred to the Kondengui Central Prison, according to Koko à Dang and the journalist’s letter, which was addressed to President Biya and the manager of the prison. The March 7 deadline passed and the journalist remained in custody there, Koko à Dang told CPJ.
Mbombog Mbog Matip was not included in CPJ’s 2020 prison census because CPJ was not aware of his case at the time.
In addition to the false news charge, the September 7 detention order cited two Cameroonian laws: Article 74 of the penal code, which relates to “Punishment and Responsibility,” and Article 78 of Cameroon’s Law Relating to Cybersecurity and Cybercriminality, which covers the publication or propagation of information “without being able to attest its veracity or prove [if] it is true.”
Article 74 does not detail specific offenses or punishments; violations of Article 78 carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of 10 million Central African francs (US$18,000). The penalties included in Article 78 may be doubled “where the offence is committed with the aim of disturbing public peace,” according to the law.
In the months before he was arrested, Mbombog Mbog Matip was investigating an alleged coup attempt involving Colonel Joël Émile Bamkoui, the commander of Cameroon’s Division of Military Security, according to media reports, the journalist’s letter, and Flash Ndiomo, the director of the privately owned Le Zénith newspaper, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.
He was also investigating the alleged involvement of senior Cameroonian officials with five people arrested for robbery in Togo, according to those sources.
Koko à Dang told CPJ that Mbombog Mbog Matip investigated those issues as a journalist and denounced the coup attempt on local radio broadcasts. CPJ was unable to review such broadcasts.
Koko à Dang said the journalist also sought to alert the president about the alleged coup attempt through an audio recording sent to someone the journalist believed to be a Cameroonian intelligence official. The CamroonWeb news report stated that the individual was Thierry Roland Enom, an informant for Bamkoui, and that reaching out to Enom may have contributed to the journalist’s arrest.
While he was held in the State Secretariat for Defense’s custody, Bamkoui beat and threatened Mbombog Mbog Matip, according to CamerounWeb and Koko à Dang, who said the beating resulted in wounds all over the journalist’s body.
When CPJ called Bamkoui on April 9, 2021, he declined to comment and expressed frustration about being called and not met in person. CPJ called him again in October 2021, but the call was dropped due to a weak connection and subsequent calls went unanswered.
In February, the privately owned Mimi Mefo Info news website published a video on Facebook of Mbombog Mbog Matip in detention, explaining the details of his case, and pleading for assistance. While in detention, has been threatened by associates of one of the men allegedly involved in the robberies in Togo, according to media reports.
On September 13, 2021, Mbombog Mbog Matip appeared for a third time before a military court in Yaoundé, after the case had been postponed twice, according to Koko à Dang, who said that Enom told the court that Mbombog Mbog Matip had not published about the alleged coup attempt and had only sent him a voice message about it.
Reached by phone on October 1, Enom told CPJ that he could not comment on the case because it was before the court and referred CPJ to his lawyer and provided their contact information. Reached by CPJ over the phone, that lawyer said Enom was a witness in the case and that he could not comment because the case was still before the court.
At a hearing on November 8, the prosecution found it did not have sufficient evidence against the journalist and the case was postponed to December 13, 2022, according to local media reports and the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, which sent an independent trial monitor to the court hearings and shared information from that monitor with CPJ.
Koko à Dang told CPJ in early October that Mbombog Mbog Matip suffered from illness in detention including trouble breathing, and that the conditions in the prison were “extremely difficult,” in part due to the fact that Mbombog Mbog Matip did not have feet and was required to climb stairs to use the toilet.
Communication Minister Rene Sadi, who is also a government spokesperson, did not respond to CPJ’s calls and text messages for comment in October and November 2021. Sadi’s adviser, Charles Manda, also did not respond to an email or texts sent via messaging app in September, October, and November 2021.
CPJ emailed the government’s cabinet secretariat in September and November 2021, but did not receive any responses.