Plainclothes security agents abducted Cameroonian freelance journalist Kingsley Fomunyuy Njoka in May 2020. He is being held in pretrial detention in Yaoundé, 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, 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 Yaoundé later that day, Tanyi said.
The agents searched Njoka’s home and personal office without a warrant, 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.”
Officers questioned 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.
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 could not 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 Brice Meka, a senior official in Kumbo, 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 could not 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 and 2022.
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, similarly 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.
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 could not 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 after that, and the program was canceled 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 October 2022.
On June 12, 2020, Njoka was transferred to Kondengui Central Prison, where he remains while his case before a military tribunal is repeatedly postponed, according to his lawyer Amungwa Tanyi, who spoke to CPJ.
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 the journalist 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 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 act, Tanyi said. Atonfack declined to comment when reached for comment via messaging app in October 2021 and did not respond to a request for comment via messaging app in October 2022.
After having been denied access to his client for most of 2021, Tanyi told CPJ he was able to see him that November, and Njoka complained about poor sanitation and said he was being treated for malaria and stomach illnesses “almost every month.” In November 2022, Tanyi said the dehumanizing conditions in Kondengui persisted, including chronic overcrowding and inadequate food and drinking water, meaning that every time his client fell ill, his treatment and recovery took longer.
In February 2022, during the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, CPJ and 26 other civil society organizations published an open letter calling for the release of journalists and others arbitrarily detained in the country.
In May 2022, Njoka’s request to leave prison to attend his father’s funeral was denied, as CPJ reported. In September 2022, for the first time since his arrest more than two years earlier, Njoka was able to receive a prison visit from his wife, Tanyi said. Njoka has yet to see his children, the same person with knowledge of his circumstances told CPJ.
On June 6, 2022, Njoka appeared before a military tribunal, but in repeated court appearances following that date, the journalist’s case made no progress and he was not formally arraigned, Tanyi told CPJ. In a hearing on November 7, Njoka’s defense team insisted that Atonfack was not above the law and should be compelled to appear as the prosecution’s first witness, Tanyi said, adding that the case was adjourned to December 5.
CPJ’s calls, texts, and messages sent to Cameroonian government spokesperson Rene Sadi via messaging app, and to his adviser Charles Manda, went unanswered in October and November 2022, and an email sent to the government’s cabinet office did not receive a reply.