Tsi Conrad, a filmmaker and photographer from Cameroon’s separatist English-speaking Northwest Region, was sentenced in 2018 to serve 15 years on multiple charges, including secession, hostility against the state, and spreading false news. He was tried in a military court, alongside two other journalists and four other Anglophone detainees. In 2019, Conrad was sentenced to an additional 18 months, to be served concurrently, after protesting poor conditions in Kondengui Central Prison in the capital, Yaoundé. Conrad appealed his original conviction, which was partially overturned by a Military Appeals Tribunal in 2021. In 2023, he appealed to the Supreme Court but no hearing date has been set.
Conrad is from Bamenda, capital of Northwest Region, where he worked for Ruphina’s House, a news agency and film production company that he started in 2013, and Cejay Productions, a multimedia company, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisals.
Conrad also provided video and photos to the pro-separatist news website Bareta News and photos to Bamenda-based Abakwa FM Radio, CNTV, Horizon TV, Rush FM Radio, and Ndefcam Radio, and published them on his blog and Facebook, according to Bareta News’ owner Mark Bareta and the person familiar with the case.
On December 8, 2016, Conrad was arrested at gunpoint by at least 10 military officers and his camera was destroyed while filming demonstrators protesting a rally by the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement in Bamenda that turned violent, according to that person.
Conrad was taken to a police station and interrogated about the images he took and the media outlets he distributed them to, that person told CPJ. That night, Conrad was transferred to Yaoundé, where he was detained without outside contact for two weeks at the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, the police’s intelligence arm.
The violence was part of the Anglophone crisis, which began in October 2016 when lawyers and teachers protested over the use of French in Cameroon’s minority English-speaking regions. The government’s deadly crackdown triggered a secessionist rebellion and ongoing conflict that has killed at least 6,000 people and displaced thousands.
On December 23, 2016, Conrad and several others were brought before the Yaoundé Military Court to face charges, according to the person familiar with the case and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, marking the start of a trial that was adjourned at least 16 times.
On May 25, 2018, Conrad was found guilty of terrorism, secession, hostility against the state, contempt for civil authority, rebellion, and spreading false news, including by electronic means, and sentenced to 15 years in prison and a fine of 268 million Central African francs (US$479,850), according to news reports and a copy of the judgment, reviewed by CPJ. Six other Anglophone detainees were sentenced on similar charges, including journalists Mancho Bibixy and Thomas Awah Junior.
On July 22, 2019, a protest by Kondengui Central Prison inmates over overcrowding and delays in hearing their cases, resulted in the temporary transfer of Conrad and more than 100 other prisoners to a Yaoundé detention facility, where they were held incommunicado for two weeks, according to Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
On August 6, 2019, Yaoundé’s Ekounou Court of First Instance charged Conrad and other inmates with rebellion, attempted prison break, destruction of property, and theft.
On September 2, 2019, Conrad was found guilty of group rebellion and sentenced to an additional 18 months in prison, to be served at the same time, the person with knowledge of his case told CPJ. Conrad appealed the charge, and on October 29, 2019, the judge reduced Conrad’s concurrent sentence to 16 months, that person said.
In Conrad’s main case, a military appeals tribunal overturned his convictions for terrorism and rebellion on August 19, 2021, but upheld the other five charges, according to Conrad’s lawyer Ngang Ngu Fonguh and a copy of the judgment reviewed by CPJ. It also dropped the 268 million CFA francs fine and reduced the court fines from 31.7 million to 2.5 million CFA (US$54,342 to $4,291) to be divided among the seven Anglophone defendants, Fonguh said.
In a 2021 opinion, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Conrad was arbitrarily detained and urged the government to immediately release him and grant him compensation.
In May 2023, a joint submission by CPJ, the American Bar Association, and Freedom House to the U.N. Human Rights Council for Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review called on Cameroon to immediately free Conrad and four other journalists who were arbitrarily detained.
On August 25, 2023, after delays in receiving the written judgment from the lower court, Fonguh filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ. As of late 2023, the Supreme Court had not set a date for a hearing, according to the person with knowledge of the case.
CPJ’s requests for comment via a letter to the Cameroonian embassy in Washington, D.C., did not receive any response.
Denis Omgba Bomba, head of the communication ministry’s National Media Observatory told CPJ that Conrad was charged with common law offenses, which fell within the remit of the Ministry of Justice, and that legal proceedings had to be settled by the courts before any mediation by the Ministry of Communication.
CPJ’s calls to the Ministry of Justice did not receive a reply.