Cameroonian journalist Wawa Jackson Nfor is being held in pretrial detention on accusations of publishing secessionist information. National gendarmes in Nkambe, a city in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest region, arrested Nfor without a warrant on May 15, 2018.
Nfor previously worked for local broadcaster Abakwa FM before starting his own Facebook and text message-based news service, Wawanews, and contributing to local news websites such as Hilltopnews, according to a person familiar with his case who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
Nfor’s reporting focused on the Donga-Mantung area of the Northwest region, including about the local Ambazonian separatist movement, according to CPJ’s review of his writing.
National gendarmerie officers arrested Nfor on May 15, 2018, while he was returning to Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, after a visit to his home village of Tabenken, according to the person familiar with details of his case.
He was detained at the gendarmerie brigade in Nkambe, the capital of Donga-Mantung, in a tiny cell without a bed, chair, toilet, or any ventilation, the person told CPJ. Soon after his arrival he was interrogated by Patrick Engola the district officer for Nkambe central district, who accused the journalist of publishing unfavorable news about his administration, the person said. Engola cited a 2017 news article about him seizing satellite dishes from residents who were watching the separatist satellite broadcaster SCBC TV, which operates from exile, the person said.
In an October 15, 2019, phone call with CPJ, Engola denied any knowledge of the 2017 article or of Nfor’s case, saying he was not responsible for such matters and never interrogated Nfor,
Nfor was detained incommunicado for three days, was not allowed any visitors, and was denied food, the person said. Nfor alleged that he was beaten by guards during his detention, the person said.
After pressure on authorities from the journalist’s lawyer, Ngwang Shey, Nfor appeared before the chief prosecutor in Nkambe on May 18, and before the examining magistrate that same day, the person said. The journalist was told that he faced charges of publishing secessionist information and was also accused of threatening the life of prominent local ruling party politician and businessman Ngala Gerard, the person told CPJ.
Shey told CPJ that the secessionist information charge was a result of his client’s journalism.
After the hearings on May 18, Nfor was remanded in Nkambe Principal Prison pending a further investigation, the person said.
Nfor was not included in CPJ’s 2018 prison census because CPJ was not aware of his case at the time.
After four adjournments, Nfor appeared before the examining magistrate on June 21, 2018, where the charge of threatening Gerard’s life was dropped and the charge about publishing secessionist information was forwarded for trial, the person with knowledge of the case told CPJ.
The journalist was formally arraigned before the high court in Njambe on August 30, 2018, although the prosecutor claimed the state was not ready for trial.
“They have been repeating their unreadiness for 15 months now and counting,” the person told CPJ in September 2019, adding that the journalist had appeared in court on more than 30 occasions with no progress in the trial, yet his application to be released on bail had been turned down by the court.
As of October 2019, Shey said he was awaiting a court ruling on a question of procedure related to the defense’s contention that the examining magistrate had violated Nfor’s rights by failing to deliver a ruling on an application to nullify certain actions of the investigator.
“The ruling will determine the way the matter shall continue,” he told CPJ, but added that no date has been fixed because the judge has been on annual leave. Shey also said that the insecurity in the region had contributed to delays and hampered the case.
If found guilty, the journalist faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, according to Cameroon’s Penal Code, the lawyer said.
In reply to a September 2019 request for comment via messaging app, Gerard told CPJ that he knows Nfor well and did not remember filing a complaint against him. He said, “his being in jail is in no way related to me.”
Communications Minister Rene Sadi did not respond to CPJ’s text message requesting comment. His adviser Charles Manda also did not reply to similar requests via messaging app, email, and calls.