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Cameroonian authorities confuse journalism with spying

September 17, 2015

Two journalists - freelance investigative reporter Simon Ateba and Radio France Internationale correspondent Ahmed Abba - are being held illegally by the Cameroonian authorities, who claim that their journalistic work constituted spying.

Ateba has been in a jail in the northern city of Mokolo for the past six days after being arrested as he was leaving the Minawao camp for Nigerian refugees, where he had been investigating conditions in the camp.

The authorities insist he was spying although he previously told them he wanted to report on conditions there. Since being incarcerated, he has not had access to a lawyer or to his medicine, although he told the prison authorities he needed treatment.

“Because of the stalling tactics used by the authorities to prevent him going to the camp, Ateba found another way of getting access to information that was in the public interest,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“It should not be forgotten that Ateba clearly notified the Cameroonian authorities of his intentions from the outset. Is this how a spy behaves? We call for the immediate release of Ateba, who is well known in both Nigeria and Cameroon for his professionalism. It is inconceivable that he was acting as a spy.”

Ateba had a grant from the Nigeria-based International Centre for Investigative Reporting to do this report.

His case is not isolated.

Abba, who is a local Hausa-language reporter for RFI, was arrested on 30 July in the northern city Maroua, where he was working. After 15 days in police custody, he was transferred to Yaoundé, where he has been held incommunicado ever since, with his lawyer being able to see him or have access to his case file.

RFI regards his continuing detention as “extra-judicial” in nature because all the deadlines for taking him before a judge and charging him have been exceeded. RFI is pressing for his lawyer to be allowed see Abba and the case file.

“It is unacceptable that a journalist whose professionalism cannot be doubted should be treated as a dangerous criminal and in a completely illegal manner. We call on the authorities to respect the law and Abba’s rights, and to release him without delay.” says Reporters Without Borders.

Reporters Without Borders has been unsuccessful in its attempts to reach communication minister Issa Tchiroma Bakari in order to find out exactly what these two journalists are alleged to have done.

Bakari made paternalistic and threatening comments to journalists on 25 August. “It is the media’s duty to speak highly of our nation, to sing the praises of a nation that stands tall and progresses despite difficulties,” he said.

In Cameroon, journalists are often harassed and intimidated, some have been detained in recent months and others have been the victims of abusive judicial proceedings.

They include Félix Cyriaque Ebole Bola of the newspaper Mutations and Rodrigue Tongue of the newspaper Le Messager, who have been awaiting trial before a military court since October 2014 for allegedly failing to report information of a security nature to the police.

Zacharie Ndiomo, the editor of the bimonthly Le Zénith, spent months in pre-trial detention as a result of a criminal libel suit brought by finance ministry secretary-general Urbain Ebang Mve. Now he is awaiting a second trial on the same charge because the plaintiff thinks the court was too lenient at the first trial.

Cameroon is ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

For more information contact:
Reporters Without Borders
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84

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