Mancho Bibixy, a local radio host popularly known as BBC, from Cameroon’s separatist English-speaking Northwest Region, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 on multiple charges including secession, insurrection, and spreading false information. He was tried in a military court, alongside two other journalists and four other Anglophone detainees. In 2019, Bibixy was sentenced to an additional two years, to be served concurrently, after protesting poor conditions in Kondengui Central Prison in the capital, Yaoundé. Bibixy appealed his original conviction, which was partially overturned by a Military Appeals Tribunal in 2021. In 2023, he appealed to the Supreme Court but no hearing date has been set.
Bibixy hosted three radio shows in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, on the privately owned Abakwa FM, including a popular pidgin-language news review called “Comedy Show,” which was critical of the marginalization of English speakers, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing fears of reprisals.
On the show, Bibixy discussed protests that marked the start of the Anglophone crisis 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 at least 6,000 people and displaced thousands.
In the weeks preceding his arrest, Bibixy was repeatedly summoned by authorities, including the police and the regional representative of the communication ministry, who played excerpts from his show and accused the journalist of “fighting the state,” the person familiar with his case told CPJ.
On January 17, 2017, Bibixy was arrested by armed soldiers who forced their way into his friend’s house in Bamenda, according to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
On May 25, 2018, a military court in Yaoundé sentenced Bibixy to 15 years in prison and a fine of 268 million Central African francs (US$479,850), according to news reports and a copy of the judgment reviewed by CPJ. Bibixy was found guilty of terrorism, secession, hostility to the fatherland, spreading false information, revolution, insurrection, rebellion, and contempt for civil servants. Six other Anglophone detainees were sentenced on similar charges, including journalists Tsi Conrad and Thomas Awah Junior.
On July 22, 2019, a protest by Kondengui Central Prison inmates over overcrowding and delays in hearing their cases, resulted in the temporary transfer of Bibixy and more than 100 other prisoners to a Yaoundé detention facility, where they were held incommunicado for two weeks, according to the person familiar with the case and Human Rights Watch.
On August 8, 2019, Bibixy was charged by the Ekounou Court of First Instance with group rebellion, arson, attempt to escape, looting, and causing bodily harm, that person told CPJ.
On September 9, 2019, Bibixy was found guilty of group rebellion and sentenced to an additional two years, to run concurrently with his original sentence. Bibixy appealed the charge and on October 29, 2019, the Yaoundé Appeals Court delivered a judgment in French and defense lawyers were told to wait for a copy to be shared with them, that person said. As of late 2023, the lawyers had not received the judgment.
In 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Bibixy was being arbitrarily detained and directed the Cameroonian government to take remedial action, including his immediate release.
In Bibixy’s main case, on August 19, 2021, a military appeals tribunal overturned his convictions for terrorism and rebellion but upheld the other six charges, according to Bibixy’s lawyer Ngang Ngu Fonguh and a copy of the judgment reviewed by CPJ. It also dropped the 268 million CFA francs fine and reduced the court fines from 31.7 million to 2.5 million CFA (US$54,342 to $4,291) to be divided among the seven Anglophone defendants, Fonguh 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 Bibixy and four other journalists who were arbitrarily detained.
On August 25, 2023, after delays in receiving the written judgment from the lower court, Fonguh filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ. As of late 2023, the Supreme Court had not set a date for a hearing, according to the person with knowledge of the case.
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 Bibixy 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.