Michel Biem Tong

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Michel Biem Tong, editor of the privately owned Hurinews website, was detained on October 23, 2018, after being summoned to the State Secretariat for Defense, known by its French acronym SED, in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé, according to a friend of the journalist who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, and Denis Nkwebo, president of the Cameroonian journalists’ trade union, of which Tong is a member.

Tong was charged on November 15 with apologizing for terrorism, false declarations, and outrage to the head of state, according to Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme de l’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC), a local human rights group, whose executive director, Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, was present in the courtroom.

Prior to his arrest, Tong published articles criticizing the government’s handling of grievances of Anglophone Cameroonians from the western regions of the country in the run-up to presidential elections on October 7, according to the same friend.

According to a letter Tong sent before his arrest to the friend, the journalist had anticipated his arrest after he received repeated calls from a Cameroonian military official known as Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui to present himself at the SED. The summons was in connection with an alleged audio recording in which Tong expressed sympathy toward the Anglophone separatists in western Cameroon, according to the friend. In his letter, Tong denied having made any such recording.

Hurinews published a statement by a Gabonese network of civil society organizations, known by its French acronym ROLBG, calling for Tong’s release and extolling "his numerous writings supported by credible and richly documented information" about the government’s alleged human rights violations in the Anglophone regions.

Tong is being held at the Konegui Central Prison in Yaoundé where he has developed health problems, including malaria and a wound on his lip, according to the same friend of the journalist who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Tong was treated by a nurse but is still unwell, the friend said.

As of November 2018, Tong had not been granted access to a lawyer, according to the friend.

As of late 2018, CPJ’s repeated calls to the Cameroonian minister of information, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, went unanswered, as did calls to the Cameroonian police. When contacted by CPJ, Bamkoui declined to comment on Tong’s case.