Cameroonian freelance journalist Tsi Conrad is serving a 15-year sentence in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé on anti-state charges. In 2019, he was sentenced to additional time in prison, to run concurrently, for allegedly taking part in protests by inmates over poor prison conditions.
Conrad, a freelance journalist, writer, and filmmaker in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest Region, was arrested at gunpoint on December 8, 2016, by at least 10 military officers while filming a rally of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement that had turned violent, a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity said.
That night, he was transferred to Yaoundé half-naked in his boxer shorts and chained in the back of a military vehicle and was detained without outside contact for two weeks at the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, the police’s secretive intelligence arm. His camera was destroyed, and he was held and interrogated by the Bamenda judicial police about the images he took and the media organizations he distributed them to, the person told CPJ.
Conrad worked for Ruphina’s House, a news agency and film production company that he started in 2013, and Cejay Productions, a multimedia company involved in news collection, and published videos and images of protests on his blog, personal Facebook page, and other Facebook pages, that person said.
Conrad also provided video and images to the pro-separatist news website Bareta News and his pictures were also used by Abakwa FM radio, CNTV in Bamenda, and several journalists working for privately owned Bamenda-based outlets, such as Horizon TV, Rush FM Radio, and Ndefcam Radio, according to Bareta News outlet owner Mark Bareta and the person who spoke to CPJ.
The journalist’s trial began on December 23, 2016, and dragged on for over a year, with at least 16 adjournments, that person told CPJ. Conrad was sentenced to 15 years in prison on May 25, 2018, by a military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, according to multiple news reports and a copy of the judgment seen by CPJ.
The journalist was found guilty of terrorism, secession, hostility against the state, contempt for civil authority, rebellion, and spreading false news, including by electronic means, and was tried alongside journalists Mancho Bibixy and Thomas Awah Junior and four other Anglophone detainees.
Conrad’s appeal before the military tribunal in Yaoundé began in June 2019 but was repeatedly adjourned, the same person told CPJ.
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 Conrad and other prisoners to the State Secretariat for Defense in Yaoundé, where they were held incommunicado for two weeks and returned to Kondengui Central Prison on August 4, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
On August 6, 2019, the Ekounou Court of First Instance in Yaoundé charged Conrad and other inmates with rebellion, attempted prison break, destruction of property, and theft. On September 2, Conrad was acquitted on three charges but was found guilty of group rebellion and sentenced to an additional 18 months in prison, to run concurrently, the person with knowledge of his case told CPJ.
Conrad appealed the “group rebellion” charge, and on October 29, the judge reduced Conrad’s concurrent prison sentence from 18 to 16 months, the person said, adding that Conrad was not present at the court for that hearing.
CPJ and 80 other organizations wrote a letter to President Biya on April 6, 2020, urging that he free Conrad 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.
In November 2019, Conrad was diagnosed with third-degree hemorrhoids by a doctor at Yaounde’s Central Hospital who recommended surgery, the person familiar with his case said, adding that Conrad suffered from digestive problems, including stomach cramps. On April 17, 2022, Conrad was finally operated on and spent a month in the hospital. A person familiar with Conrad’s health condition said the journalist struggled to recover because of the overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions at Kondengui Prison and that it had been challenging to follow the treatment plan.
On August 19, 2021, a military appeals tribunal overturned Conrad’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.