Cameroonian freelance journalist Tsi Conrad was sentenced in 2018 to 15 years in Kondengui Central Prison on anti-state charges. His appeal is before a military appeals tribunal. In September 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 sentenced to 15 years in jail on May 25, 2018, by a military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, according to news reports.
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, according to the court judgment, which CPJ reviewed, and a local news report.
Conrad provided video and still images to the pro-separatist news website Bareta News, according to the owner of the site, Mark Bareta. The images were also used by privately owned Abakwa FM radio and CNTV in Bamenda, a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, said. Conrad also did work for Ruphina’s House, a news agency and film production company that he started in 2013, and for Cejay Productions, a multimedia company involved in news collection, filmmaking, and graphic design that was started in 2008.
Conrad also distributed images of rallies and protests to other journalists, including those working on the privately owned Horizon TV, Rush FM Radio, and Ndefcam Radio based in Bamenda, the same person said. Conrad also published video and still footage of the protests on his blog, as well as his personal Facebook page and other pages on the social media platform, said the person with knowledge of Conrad’s case.
Conrad 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, said the person. His camera was destroyed and he was held by the Bamenda judicial police for five hours and interrogated, the person told CPJ.
He was transferred to Yaoundé half-naked in his boxer shorts and chained in the back of a military vehicle that night, and was detained without outside contact for two weeks at the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, the police’s secretive intelligence arm, the person said.
Conrad was repeatedly questioned about the images he had taken and the media organizations to which he had distributed them, the person said. The journalist was transferred after two weeks to Kondengui Central Prison and appeared before a military tribunal on December 23, 2016, the person said. The trial dragged on for more than a year and through at least 16 adjournments before the May 2018 sentencing, the person told CPJ.
Conrad’s appeal before the military tribunal in Yaoundé began in June 2019, but by late October 2020, it had been adjourned at least 19 times, the same person told CPJ.
On July 22, 2019, inmates at the Kondengui Central Prison staged protests over their living conditions, including chronic overcrowding, and delays in their cases getting to court, the person said. Authorities transferred Conrad and other alleged protesters 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. That trial started on August 23, 2019, and there were at least four adjournments, according to posts on the Facebook news page Mimi Mefo Info. On September 2, 2019. 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 the case told CPJ.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted court proceedings in Cameroon, and Conrad appeared before the military appeals tribunal five times in relation to his anti-state conviction: in January, February, March, September, and on October 15, when a new judge presided and the appeal had to begin afresh, the person familiar with his case told CPJ. At that hearing, the appeal was postponed again to November 19, when it was then postponed again to January 23, 2021, the person said.
Conrad’s appeal of the “group rebellion” conviction was heard in June, July, and twice in September 2020, according to a person with knowledge of his case. Conrad appeared in court on October 26 expecting a verdict, but the judge was absent, the person said. 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 Paul Biya on April 6, 2020, urging that he free Conrad and other jailed journalists amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter noted that many of the imprisoned journalists were suffering from ill health exacerbated by overcrowded prisons.
In November 2019 Condad was diagnosed with third-degree hemorrhoids by a doctor at Yaounde’s Central Hospital who recommended surgery, the person familiar with his case said, and added that Conrad suffered from digestive problems, including stomach cramps.
Communication Minister Rene Sadi, who is also a government spokesperson, did not respond to a text message from CPJ requesting comment in late September 2020. His adviser, Charles Manda, also did not respond to calls or texts via messaging app. CPJ emailed the government’s cabinet secretariat on September 24, 2020, but did not receive any response. Biya did not respond to CPJ’s April 2020 letter.