Cameroonian journalist Mancho Bibixy, popularly known as BBC, is serving a 15-year sentence on anti-state charges and false news in relation to his advocacy for greater autonomy for the English-speaking minority in Cameroon. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that Bibixy’s arrest was arbitrary and directed the Cameroonian government to immediately release him.
Bibixy, a broadcaster for the private radio station Abakwa FM in Bamenda, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on anti-state charges by a military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, on May 25, 2018, according to 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, according to the judgment and a local news report.
Bibixy was tried along with two other journalists, Tsi Conrad and Thomas Awah Junior, and four other Anglophone detainees on charges relating to the crisis in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions that began in late 2016 with protests by teachers and lawyers about the perceived marginalization of English by Cameroon’s majority French-speaking government.
Bibixy was arrested at 8:00 p.m. on January 17, 2017, at the home of a friend in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest Region.
Bibixy was questioned in Bamenda and taken to Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, on January 18, and interrogated by a joint team of police officers and gendarmeries at the latter’s headquarters in the capital, the person told CPJ. He was given printed copies of posts on his Facebook timeline and accused of using Facebook and Abakwa FM Radio to sponsor terrorism, the person said.
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. In an article in French newspaper Le Monde, an unnamed radio colleague described how the show focused on why lawyers took to the streets in Bamenda on October 16, 2016, to protest the marginalization of English in the region’s courts.
Bixby was repeatedly summoned by authorities and briefly detained in the weeks leading up to his January 17 arrest, including by the security police and police intelligence in Bamenda, as well as the regional representative of the communication ministry, the person familiar with his case told CPJ. “They played recorded excerpts of the program and accused (him) of fighting the state,” the person said.
On October 19, 2016, Bibixy was briefly detained at the entrance to the regional hospital in Bamenda after interviewing protesters who had been wounded after police allegedly shot them, said the person. The interviews were for Abakwa FM and privately owned CNTV in Bamenda, but all his equipment was confiscated, according to the same person.
Bibixy was moved to Kondengui Central Prison in May 2017, where fellow journalists Conrad and Awah were also being held in late 2018, according to people with knowledge of the case who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
The independent Cameroon Journalists’ Trade Union wrote to President Paul Biya in May 2018 asking for Bibixy and Awah Junior to be pardoned, according to its president, Denis Nkwebo, and a local media report.
Bibixy, Conrad, and Awah’s appeals before the military appeals tribunal in Yaoundé began in June 2019, but have been characterized by postponements, a person familiar with the case who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal told CPJ in September 2019. The three had been called before the court four times, but each session was adjourned without any progress, the person said.
On July 22, 2019, inmates at the Kondengui Central Prison staged protests about their living conditions, including chronic overcrowding, and delays in their cases getting to court, the person said. Bibixy and other prisoners were removed from Kondengui and transferred to the Special Operations Groups in Yaoundé and later to the State Secretariat for Defense, where Bibixy was held incommunicado and tortured, the person said.
A person with knowledge of the protest in Kondengui Central Prison told CPJ that prison guards hauled Bibixy out of his bed and beat him. Guards tore his clothing and removed his shoes, and forced him to lie down in a prison courtyard while female warders poured dirty water on him and other inmates, the person said. Bibixy was allowed to return to his cell, but a few hours later, prison guards stripped him naked and took him to the Special Operations Groups, the person said.
At the Special Operations Groups, security agents assaulted Bibixy with batons and he suffered a bone fracture, a broken tooth, and also had blood and pus flowing from his right ear, the person said, adding that authorities prioritized taking Bibixy to court over medical attention in a hospital. CPJ could not independently verify these allegations.
Bibixy and other detainees were taken to the Ekounou court of first instance on August 4, without the presence of a lawyer, and were asked to sign documents in French, which they refused to do, the person told CPJ. While some of them were transferred back to Kondengui Central Prison, Bibixy and two others were taken to the State Secretariat for Defense, where they were held for two days before being returned to the prison.
On August 8, Bibixy and other alleged prison protesters returned to the court with legal representation, and the court charged Bibixy with group rebellion, arson, attempting to escape, looting, and causing bodily harm and theft, the person said.
On September 9, Bibixy was acquitted of all charges except group rebellion, and was sentenced to a further two years, to run concurrently, the same person said.
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.
The working group also said it would refer Bibixy’s case to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to take whatever further steps that office deems necessary or appropriate.
Communication Minister Rene Sadi, who is a government spokesperson, did not respond to a text message requesting comment in late 2019. His adviser Charles Manda, also did not respond to calls, emails, or texts.