Thomas Awah Junior

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Thomas Awah Junior, the Northwest correspondent for privately owned Afrik 2 Radio in Yaoundé and publisher of the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine, was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a military court in Yaoundé on May 25, 2018, according to media reports and a copy of the judgment seen by CPJ.  The journalist was found guilty of terrorism, hostility to the fatherland, secession, revolution, insurrection, the spreading of false news--including by electronic means--and contempt for civil authority, according to the judgment and a local news report.

Awah Junior, a former journalist for Equinoxe TV, was tried along with two other journalists, Tsi Conrad and Mancho Bibixy, 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.

One of the defense lawyers, Emmanuel Simh, told Voice of America in late May that an appeal would be filed.  A June 20, 2018, report in Daily News Cameroon and a person with knowledge of the journalists’ circumstances who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal said an appeal had been filed, but no date had been set.

Awah was arrested in Bamenda on January 2, 2017, while interviewing protesters for Afrik2 Radio, according to a journalist with knowledge of the circumstances of his arrest who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. Awah’s former Equinoxe colleague-turned-founder of Afrik2 Radio, Polycarpe Essomba, did not respond to repeated calls and WhatsApp messages from CPJ asking for detail about Awah’s case.

Awah was also found in possession of documents from the secessionist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), which was banned a fortnight later by authorities, another person with knowledge of the case told CPJ.

On September 17, 2018, an increasingly frail Awah Junior, who before his arrest suffered from poor physical and mental health and whose health deteriorated badly while in Kondengui Central Prison, was finally admitted to a private ward at the Yaoundé Central Hospital after a social media campaign went viral. He was suffering from chronic tuberculosis and pneumonia, according to a person with knowledge of his health condition, but who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. He was guarded by two prison officials, a visitor told CPJ. The social media campaign included shocking photographs of a critically ill Awah, according to local journalists, a BBC Pidgin report, and a CPJ review of the social media posts. Prison authorities had initially refused to admit him to hospital, according to the journalists and other individuals familiar with his case.

Awah was discharged from hospital a month later on October 16 because of mounting hospital bills and was sent back to Kondengui prison, according to a person with knowledge of his hospitalization, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, as well as local media reports and a tweet by the Unity Foundation.

Awah was not included in CPJ’s 2017 prison census as CPJ could not determine at the time whether his arrest was related to his journalism.

Issa Tchiroma Bakary, the communication minister and government spokesman, did not answer repeated calls for comment, nor did he respond to several text and WhatsApp messages, as well as an email to his personal assistant seeking reaction.

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