Cameroonian freelance journalist Tsi Conrad was sentenced in 2018 to 15 years in Kondengui Central Prison on anti-state charges. His case is under appeal before a military appeals tribunal. In September 2019, Conrad was sentenced to an additional year in prison, to run concurrently, after he was convicted of “group rebellion” for allegedly taking part in protests by inmates about poor 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 seen by CPJ and a local news report. He was tried along with two other journalists, Mancho Bibixy and Thomas Awah Junior, as well as four others accused on charges relating to the crisis in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions.
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, the person familiar with the case 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.
The same person described how Conrad was arrested while filming a rally of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party that had turned violent after demonstrators clashed with police. Reuters reported that at least four people were shot dead by police.
Conrad was arrested at gunpoint on December 8, 2016, by at least 10 military officers, said the person. His camera was destroyed and he was held in custody by the Bamenda judicial police for five hours and interrogated, the person told CPJ.
The journalist was asked where he had stored all the images of the protests and was questioned about his alleged involvement with the protest leaders, the person said. Conrad was also asked for the passwords of his Facebook account and blog, as well as the names of the journalists and media houses with which he had shared images of the protests, but refused to turn over this information, said the person. The judicial police threatened to kill Conrad and forced him to sign a confession under duress, said the person. The judicial police beat him on the soles of his feet and assaulted him with belts and batons, the person said. CPJ could not independently corroborate allegations of torture.
Conrad was transferred to Yaoundé half-naked in his boxer shorts and chained in the back of a military vehicle that same 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 whom he had distributed these to, the person said. Conrad saw for the first time the contents of his forced confession, said the person. Among other things, it falsely stated that when Conrad was arrested he had been in possession of a secessionist flag and a large hammer, the person said. It said he had been paid by another imprisoned journalist, Mancho Bibixy, and other media to film the protest action, and to send footage to international media, as well as publish it on social media. It also claimed he had admitted to being a secessionist and one of the Anglophone protest leaders, said the person.
Conrad gave details of his workplace under interrogation, the person added. Authorities in February 2017 raided the multimedia studio in Bamenda where Conrad edited most of his films and documentaries, the person said. Two workers were arrested: one was released a few hours later, while the other spent several more days in detention before he too was freed without charge, said the person. Conrad’s equipment, including film cameras and computers used for editing, were seized and taken to Yaoundé for evidence.
The journalist was transferred after two weeks to Kondengui Central Prison and appeared before a military tribunal on December 23, 2016, the person said. His case was combined with those of Bibixy, Awah, and Anglophone detainees. Their military trial dragged on for more than a year and through at least 16 adjournments, said the person.
Conrad’s December 8, 2016, arrest was not the first time he was targeted by authorities. On December 2 of the same year, the journalist was confronted by judicial police officers while filming a political rally organized by the opposition Social Democratic Front party, the person said. Conrad was asked to delete all the images from his camera, which the journalist refused to do, the person said. One of the officers shouted at Conrad in French, “I know you and will deal with you,” said the person.
Conrad filmed a December 4, 2016, meeting that protesting youth held with senior officials of the police, gendarmerie, and military in Bamenda. Violence erupted and the military used water cannons and live ammunition to disperse the youth, allegedly killing one person, the person said. The authorities again attempted to seize Conrad’s camera and threatened to arrest him if he did not delete his images, the person said.
Conrad, Bibixy and Awah’s appeals before the military tribunal in Yaoundé began in June 2019, but were postponed several times, 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. Authorities transferred Conrad and other alleged protesters to the State Secretariat for Defense in Yaoundé, where they were held incommunicado and tortured, the person said. Security officers beat Conrad in the head with a wooden baton, which later required stitches, the person said. CPJ reviewed photos of Conrad’s head injury.
Conrad’s whereabouts were not known for about two weeks; on August 4, all inmates held at the State Secretariat for Defense were returned to the Kondengui Central Prison, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
On August 6, 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 year in prison, to run concurrently, the person with knowledge of the case told CPJ.
Conrad suffered from malaria in 2018. Since his return to Kondengui Prison on August 4, Conrad had been suffering from “sharp pains to the head” and “headaches” and had seen a prison doctor and undergone a head scan, according to the person with knowledge of the case and medical documents reviewed by CPJ.
Communication Minister Rene Sadi, who is also a government spokesperson, did not respond to a text message requesting comment in late September 2019. His adviser, Charles Manda, also did not respond to calls, emails, or texts via messaging app.