Cameroonian journalist Mancho Bibixy, popularly known as BBC, is serving a 15-year sentence in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé on anti-state and false news charges. In 2019, he was sentenced to an additional two years in prison, to run concurrently with his original sentence, for his alleged role in a prison protest.
Bibixy, a broadcaster for the private radio station Abakwa FM in Bamenda, was arrested at 8 p.m. on January 17, 2017, at the home of a friend in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest Region.
Bibixy hosted three different shows on Abakwa FM, including a popular weekday news and current affairs program in pidgin called “The Comedy Show,” which was critical of the government’s social and economic marginalization of English speakers, the person said. The show included commentary on October 16, 2016, protests in Bamenda by lawyers demonstrating against the marginalization of English in the region’s courts, according to news reports.
In the weeks preceding his arrest, Bibixy was repeatedly summoned and briefly detained by authorities, including the security police and police intelligence in Bamenda and the regional representative of the communication ministry, a person familiar with his case told CPJ. “They played recorded excerpts of the program and accused [Bibixy] of fighting the state,” the person said.
A military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, sentenced Bibixy to 15 years in prison on May 25, 2018, according to multiple news reports and a copy of the judgment seen by CPJ. The journalist was found guilty of terrorism, secession, hostility to the fatherland, spreading false information, revolution, insurrection, rebellion, and contempt for civil servants and was tried alongside journalists Tsi Conrad and Thomas Awah Junior and four other Anglophone detainees.
Bibixy’s appeal before the military appeals tribunal in Yaoundé began in June 2019 but was characterized by postponements, a person familiar with his case told CPJ in late 2020.
On July 22, 2019, a protest by Kondengui Central Prison inmates over their living conditions, including chronic overcrowding and delays in their cases getting to court, resulted in the transfer of Bibixy and other prisoners to the Special Operations Group in Yaoundé and later to the State Secretariat for Defense, where Bibixy was held incommunicado, the person said.
A person knowledgeable about the protest in Kondengui Central Prison told CPJ that prison guards hauled Bibixy out of his bed, beat him, tore his clothing, removed his shoes, and forced him to lie down in a prison courtyard while female guards poured dirty water on him and other inmates, the person said, adding that Bibixy was later stripped him naked before his transfer to the Special Operations Group.
Bibixy was charged by the Ekounou Court of First Instance on August 8, 2019, with group rebellion, arson, attempt to escape, looting, and causing bodily harm, that person told CPJ. On September 9, Bibixy was acquitted of all charges except group rebellion and was sentenced to two years, to run concurrently with his original sentence.
Bibixy appealed the group rebellion charge, and the Yaoundé Appeals Court delivered a judgment on October 29, 2020. However, the court presented the verdict in French, that person said, adding that lawyers were not given a copy of the judgment and were told to wait for it to be typed. As of October 2022, the lawyers and defendants had not received the judgment.
On August 16, 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Bibixy was being detained arbitrarily and directed the Cameroonian government to take remedial action, including his immediate release, according to a statement by Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.
CPJ and 80 other organizations wrote a letter to President Biya on April 6, 2020, urging that he free Bibixy and other jailed journalists amid the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that many imprisoned journalists suffered from ill health exacerbated by overcrowding. Biya did not reply.
Bibixy suffered from chronic abdominal pain in 2020 and had an ultrasound, which did not find any abnormalities, a person with knowledge of his condition told CPJ, adding that the pain persisted as of 2022. From 2021 to 2022, Bibixy’s vision had deteriorated substantially, and prison doctors were unable to prescribe the correct lenses.
On August 19, 2021, a military appeals tribunal overturned Bibixy’s conviction on charges of terrorism and rebellion but upheld the other charges, according to Bibixy’s lawyer Ngang Ngu Fonguh, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a copy of the judgment reviewed by CPJ.
The tribunal maintained the original 15-year sentence but dropped one fine of 268,000,000 Central African francs (US$459,297.33) and reduced the court fines from 31,708,480 to 2,504,000 francs (US$54,341.87 to $4,291.35) to be divided among seven defendants, Fonguh said, adding that his clients appealed the judgment to the Supreme Court but had not received a reply as of October 2022. Another person familiar with the case, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said a written judgment from the lower court had yet to be given to the journalists or their defense lawyer.
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.
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.