Cameroonian freelance journalist Kingsley Fomunyuy Njoka was abducted by plainclothes security agents in May 2020. He is being held in pretrial detention in Yaounde, the capital, and has been questioned about his journalism covering conflicts in English-speaking parts of the country.
Njoka formerly worked as a correspondent for “Tough Talk,” a current affairs show on local broadcaster Canal 2 English, and worked at a Catholic biweekly magazine, L’Effort Camerounais, and the Catholic-owned printing house Macacos, according to his lawyer, Amungwa Tanyi, and Canal 2 English host Divine Nyaryike, both of whom spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Njoka is also a member of the Cameroon Association of English-Speaking Journalists, and attended its general assembly in late 2019, according to association president Jude Viban.
At about 8 a.m. on May 15, 2020, four armed security agents in plainclothes arrested Njoka at his home in the port city of Bonabéri, according to a statement by Njoka that his lawyer provided to CPJ, and a July 7 letter from seven U.N. special rapporteurs to the Cameroonian government. The agents did not present any identification or arrest warrant, Njoka wrote. Njoka was taken to the gendarmerie headquarters in Douala and then to the Military Research Centre in Yaounde later that day, Tanyi said.
The agents searched Njoka’s home and personal office, both without a warrant, and confiscated his laptop and demanded that Njoka’s wife, Venbatia Fai, turn over the journalist’s identity documents, according to Njoka’s statement. Njoka wrote that the officers then returned to the research brigade and asked whether he was “the journalist from Canal 2.”
Njoka told the officers that he had formerly worked for Canal 2, and they proceeded to question him about material on his computer concerning the conflict in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions, according to his statement. Njoka wrote that he did not answer the agents’ questions.
At the Military Research Centre in Yaoundé, two military officers interrogated him in French, without a lawyer present, about his news reports from Kumbo, in the Northwest region, he wrote. The officers wanted him to disclose his sources and bring them to the villages where he had reported, both of which Njoka refused to do, Njoka wrote in his statement.
Authorities alleged that Njoka sponsored “terrorists,” who provided him with information for his media reports and social media posts about military campaigns in the area, according to the journalist’s statement and a report by Mimi Mefo Info, a local news website.
Njoka wrote that he did not have enough money for himself, let alone to sponsor militant activity, and told authorities that his duty was to report on what was happening in the region. CPJ was unable to find any social media posts by Njoka relating to military activity in the region. Njoka wrote that his reports about the conflict in the region contradicted what local officials were telling national authorities.
Njoka wrote in his statement that he had previously faced opposition to his reporting from Brice Meka, a senior official in Kumbo, who had summoned him on January 17, 2018, and warned Njoka that intelligence agents were aware of his reporting and threatened to arrest him if he continued publishing “anti-government and unpatriotic reports.” Njoka wrote that he fled Kumbo after Meka’s warning. CPJ was unable to contact Meka directly, and text messages sent via a third party in November 2020 did not receive any response. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Meka in 2021
On June 8, 2020, 24 days after his arrest, authorities alerted Njoka’s wife to his whereabouts, and she contacted a relative who brought him clothes and toiletries, he wrote. During his time incommunicado, Njoka wrote, he feared that he would disappear in a similar way to journalist Samuel Wazizi, who was not seen after police handed him over to the military on August 7, 2019, and who was later announced to have died in custody.
On June 11, 2020 Njoka was charged under Sections 74, 97, 111, and 115 of Cameroon’s penal code, relating to secession and complicity in an armed gang, according to a September 3 letter by the Cameroonian government to the U.N. If convicted of secession, Njoka could face up to life imprisonment or death, and a jail term of 10 to 20 years if convicted of complicity in an armed gang under the penal code.
The letter said Njoka was suspected of managing pro-secessionist WhatsApp groups, including the Bui Warriors group based in Kumbo. In a series of official documents sent along with the letter, the government repeatedly referred to Njoka as a journalist.
CPJ was unable to find examples of Njoka’s journalism after 2018. Local journalists told CPJ that Njoka worked as a freelancer, but were unable to provide samples of his work. Former “Tough Talk” host Divine Ntaryike confirmed that Njoka had been a correspondent for the show from February to July 2017, but said the channel had not used Njoka’s work thereafter, and the program was cancelled in August of that year.
In his statement, Njoka accused a politician from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement party, Adamou Foka, of telling authorities that he was the cause of the escalating crisis in Kumbo and Kikaikom, where he was born. Foka did not reply to CPJ’s request for comment in November 2020 and again in October and November 2021
On June 12, 2020, Njoka was transferred to pretrial detention for six months in Kondengui Central Prison, Tanyi said. In late October 2020, Tanyi told CPJ that authorities had barred lawyers from seeing detainees from the Northwest and Southwest regions, including Njoka.
In November 2021, Tanyi told CPJ that, after having been denied access to his client for most of the year, he been able to see him. He said that Njoka complained about poor sanitation conditions in the prison, saying he was being treated for malaria and stomach illnesses “almost every month.”
Njoka had also been denied access to his family, Tanyi said.
On July 5, 2020, Cameroonian military spokesman Colonel Cyrille Serge Atonfack appeared in an interview on Equinoxe TV and called Njoka “a glaring example of a terrorist” and claimed that the journalist had confessed to having “contributed in the brutal killing of separatist fighters who laid down their arms and surrendered to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration centers in Buea and Bamenda,” according to a report by the privately owned new website Mimi Mefo Info.
Tanyi said those comments were “very disparaging” and were not contained in the police report about his client. Njoka filed a criminal complaint against Atonfack in July 2020, but authorities did not take any action, Tanyi said. Njoka’s lawyers insist that Atonfack should be called as a prosecution witness because of his comments in that interview, Tanyi said, adding that the defense wanted to cross-examine him. Atonfack declined to comment when reached for comment via messaging app in October 2021.
On April 1, 2021, Joseph Beti Assamo, the presidential minister in charge of defense, told the country’s parliament that Njoka would appear soon in court, but did not provide details, according to news reports.
On June 12, authorities extended Njoka’s detention for another six months, to December 12, Tanyi said. As of November 2021, Njoka remained in Kondengui Prison awaiting trial, according to Tanyi
CPJ called Communication Minister Rene Sadi, who is also a government spokesperson, for comment in late 2021, but the call did not go through and Sadi did not respond to a text message seeking comment. Sadi’s adviser, Charles Manda, also did not respond to emails 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 reply.