Kingsley Fomunyuy Njoka, a freelance journalist from Cameroon’s separatist English-speaking Northwest Region, was arrested in 2020 and initially held incommunicado. A military investigating judge charged him with secessionism and complicity in an armed group, for which he could face life imprisonment. His trial has faced multiple delays. In January 2023, his case started afresh, after the previous judge was transferred, but has been bedeviled by postponements. He is being held Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, the capital, and has fallen ill with malaria and stomach problems due to poor sanitation.
Njoka worked as a correspondent for “Toughtalk,” a current affairs show on local broadcaster Canal 2 English, which reported on the Anglophone crisis before it was taken off air in 2017, the program’s former host Divine Nyaryike and Njoka’s lawyer Amungwa Tanyi told CPJ.
The Anglophone crisis began in October 2016 when lawyers and teachers protested over the use of French in Cameroon’s minority English-speaking regions. The government’s deadly crackdown triggered a secessionist rebellion and ongoing conflict that has killed some 6,000 people.
Njoka was also a member of the Cameroon Association of English-Speaking Journalists, according to its president Jude Viban, and worked for Catholic biweekly magazine, L’Effort Camerounais; the Catholic-owned printing house Macacos; Tome Broadcasting Corporation, Magic FM and Satellite FM, Tanyi said.
Njoka said in a statement that he wrote for CPJ, shared by his lawyer, that a senior official in his hometown of Kumbo, the second largest city in the Northwest Region, warned him in 2018 that intelligence agents were aware of his reporting and threatened to arrest him if he continued publishing “anti-government and unpatriotic reports.” Njoka said he then fled Kumbo.
On May 15, 2020, four armed security agents in plainclothes forced entry to Njoka’s home in the Bonabéri neighborhood of Douala, Cameroon’s largest city, and arrested him, according to Njoka and a letter written by United Nations Special Rapporteurs to the government asking it to reveal Njoka’s location and the reason for his “forced disappearance.” The agents searched Njoka’s home and office and took his laptops and identity card, without producing an arrest warrant or any identification, those sources said.
Njoka was taken to the police’s Central Judicial Research Service in the capital, Yaoundé, later that day, according to Tanyi and a letter from the government to the United Nations. Njoka said that the officers asked him whether he was “the journalist from Canal 2,” about material on his laptop concerning the Anglophone conflict, and to disclose the sources for his reporting from Kumbo. Njoka said the officers accused him of sponsoring “terrorists” who provided him with information for his journalistic reports.
On June 11, 2020, Njoka was charged with secessionism and complicity in an armed group, according to the government letter, a crime that carries a penalty of life imprisonment under the penal code. The government said it suspected Njoka of managing pro-secessionist WhatsApp groups, including the Bui Warriors in Kumbo.
On June 12, 2020, Njoka was transferred to Kondengui Central Prison to await trial by a military tribunal, Tanyi said, adding that access to his client had been limited. In November 2021, Tanyi said he was allowed to see Njoka for the first time and he complained about poor sanitation and said he was being treated for malaria and stomach illnesses “almost every month.” In May 2022, Njoka’s request to attend his father’s funeral was denied. In September 2022, Njoka’s wife was allowed to visit him for the first time, Tanyi said.
On June 6, 2022, Njoka appeared before a military tribunal and made several subsequent appearances, but no progress was made, Tanyi told CPJ.
On January 23, 2023, Njoka appeared before a newly constituted military panel after the previous judge was transferred and the case started afresh, Tanyi said. On September 26, 2023, Njoka pleaded not guilty to all the charges, Tanyi said.
In May 2023, a joint submission by CPJ, the American Bar Association, and Freedom House to the U.N. Human Rights Council for Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review called on Cameroon to immediately free Njoka and four other journalists who were arbitrarily detained.
In October 2023, a second lawyer, Fon Robert, joined the defense team as they prepared to file Njoka’s list of witnesses. A three-person military court hearing scheduled for November 28, 2023, was postponed to January 23, 2024, as two of the assessors were absent, Tanyi said.
As of late 2023, Tanyi told CPJ that Kondengui remained overcrowded with inadequate food and drinking water.
CPJ’s requests for comment via a letter to the Cameroonian embassy in Washington, D.C., did not receive any response.
Denis Omgba Bomba, head of the communication ministry’s National Media Observatory told CPJ that Njoka was charged with common law offences, which fell within the remit of the Ministry of Justice, and that legal proceedings had to be settled by the courts before any mediation by the Ministry of Communication.
CPJ’s calls to the Ministry of Justice did not receive a reply.