Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Human Rights Network Denounces Arbitrary Arrest Of Journalists in Cameroon

The Network of Defenders of Human Rights in Central Africa (REDHAC), has denounced the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists, as well as all acts that constitute the gagging of the press in Cameroon.

The Network says the muzzling of the press in Cameroon is being carried out, above all, by administrative and judicial authorities, and by the tapping of telephone lines of journalists, the issuing of death threats to journalists, arbitrary arrests, arbitrary detentions, inhuman treatment.

The condemnations are contained in a report released on November 8, by REDHAC Sub-regional office.

The statement jointly signed by the Board Chair of REDHAC, Barrister Alice Nkom, the Deputy Board Chair, Marc Ona Essangui, the Secretary, Roch Euloge N’zobo, the CA Focal Point, Jean Jacques Mathamale, and the Executive Director, Maximilienne Ngo Mbe call on the Government of Cameroon to release all journalists and human rights activities in detention.

The report comes in the wake of a wave of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in Yaounde, Bafoussam and Douala in the last two weeks.

With the most recent case being the arrest and incarceration at the Douala Central Prison of the Deputy Editor-in-Chief in charge of the English Desk at Equinoxe Radio/TV, Mimi Mefo Takambou.

REDHAC has become reputed in the Sub-region and beyond, for its daring investigations and exposure of gross human rights abuses by some unscrupulous elements of the military, including in the Cameroon military engaged in the “fight against terrorism”.

Michel Tong, Accused Of Operating With Terrorists (Secessionists)

REDHAC, in the release, highlighted three cases as examples. First, the case of Michel Biem Tong, a Yaounde-based journalist and human rights defender.

REDHAC states that Michel Tong, who is the Director of an online publication, HURINEWS, on October 23, 2018, went to Secretariat of State for Defence (SED) in Yaounde, following an invitation “for a discussion” by the Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Joel Emile Bankui.

However, according to REDHAC’s findings, when the Publisher of HURINEWS got to SED, he was instead arrested and thrown into detention.
Human Rights Network Denounces Arbitrary Arrest Of Journalists in Cameroon
The Network said Michel Tong is accused of allegedly communicating with terrorists (Anglophone secessionists), and is being charged for promoting terrorism, and that the security forces claimed they have voice mail recordings as evidence against the incarcerated journalist.

REDHAC also disclosed that the authorities at SED denied the journalist’s lawyer, family members and colleagues access to him and he has appeared in the Yaounde Military Tribunal on October 29 and November 8.

Joseph Olinga, Accused Of Rebellion

The second case highlighted by REDHAC is that of Joseph Olinga Ndoa, the Chief of the Bafoussam Agency of the French language daily, Le Messager.

According to the REDHAC, Olinga as arrested in the evening of November 3, 2018, at a place known as Akwa in Bafoussam, where he had gone to share a drink with two of his colleagues, Elizabeth Benkam and Donat Suffo.

Then a squad of Gendarmerie officers stormed the drinking spot, ordered the manager to stop the music, and also ordered everybody in the bar to leave immediately.

Like a good reporter, who should always try to get the real facts before doing a story, Olinga moved up to the gendarmes to find out what was happening. However, the gendarmes did not take it kindly that a journalist should dare to question their action.

He was transformed into a punching bag by the gendarmes, who also dragged him on the ground and bundled him into detention at a cell at ‘Brigade de Recherche’ and who s charged for “simple rebellion.” He was released a few days later but ordered to report to their station.

Mimi Mefo, Accused Of Propagation Of False Information

The third case highlighted in the REDHAC report is that of the young female journalist, Mimi Mefo Takambou, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief in charge of the English Desk at Equinoxe Radio/TV in Douala.

The REDHAC report stated that, on October 31, 2018, Mimi Mefo was summoned by the Littoral Deputy Legion Commander of the Gendarmerie, to appear at the office at Bonanjo, on November 2, in relation to an investigation that was said to have been opened concerning her, “for propagation of false information and cyber criminality”.

REDHAC said the journalist was accused merely because she had relayed information of CNA Agency, on the confrontation between Government troops and separatist fighters, notably concerning the ‘author’ of the death of the American Missionary, Charles Trumann Wesco, in Bambui, near Bamenda.

REDHAC stated that the journalist posted the information on her Facebook page, stressing on the fact that she did quote the source of information, and remarked that she also published ten pictures of the incident in Bambui on her Facebook page.

REDHAC said, following the intervention of Mimi Mefo’s legal counsel, Barrister Richard Tamfu, the summon was first postponed to Monday, November 5, then moved to Wednesday, November 7, by the Gendarmerie Legion.

REDHAC said, “contrary to all expectations”, Mimi Mefo was, on that November 7, instead taken from the Gendarmerie Legion to the Chief Prosecutor (Commissaire de gouvenement) at the Douala Military Tribunal, who added another charge of threat to national security, against her.

She was, on the order of the Chief Prosecutor, taken to the Douala Central Prison for detention.

However, following worldwide condemnation of the arbitrary arrest and detention of the young female journalist, coupled with incessant pressure for her immediate release, she was released on Saturday, November 10.

She appeared at the Douala Military Tribunal today, Monday, November 12 but all charges against her were dropped.

Intimidation To Silence The Press

REDHAC reiterated that these abuses, as well as those other unmentioned cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in Cameroon, are acts of intimidation, to silence the media in the county.

The network also asserted that the intimidation or harassment does not help to bring about the appeasement that the country so much needs, in the face of the current disturbing socio-political atmosphere.

Though REDHAC did not directly indicate that many journalists and human rights defenders in Cameroon have been arrested in connection to the raging Anglophone Crisis that sparked off in 2016, but it observed that there have been several cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists and human rights defenders and activists in Cameroon since 2016.

REDHAC reminded the Cameroon Government that the increasing cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists, that constitutes the muzzling of the media in the country, also is a gross breach of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Cameroon is a signatory.
The Network cited Article 6 of the Charter which states that there should be no arbitrary arrest and detention of people. The Network also mentioned Article 9 of the International Pack related to Civil and Political Rights, which is also clear that there should be no arbitrary arrest and detention of persons.

REDHAC, while reiterating its condemnation of the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists and human rights defenders and activists, demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all those in prison.

The Human Rights Network also asked that the Cameroon Government should, besides releasing the journalists and human rights defenders and activists in detention, also assure their protection, as well as the security of those close to them.

Recommendation To African Union Commission

On the report, REDHAC, also addressed a strong recommendation to the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights to pressurise the Cameroon Government to respect the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, especially in this case Article 9 (1) which states that everybody has a right to information, and Article 9 (2) which says that every person has a right to freely express himself or herself, including the freedom to express one’s opinion.

That the Cameroon Government should also be pressurised to respect the Declaration of Principles on the Liberty of Expression of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, precisely X111 on Penal Measures, and XV on the Protection of Sources and other ‘Journalistic Documents’.

Two Abakwa FM Journalists In Detention

Though REDHAC’s report did not touch on the case of any journalist that has been arbitrarily arrested and detained in recent months in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon, two journalists of Abakwa FM in Bamenda, Elvis McCarthy and Jackson Wawa, are currently languishing at the Bamenda Central Prison on pretrial detention.

McCarthy has reportedly been in detention now for about six months, while Wawa has been in detention for about three months.

The two Abakwa FM journalists are facing separate charges, though the accusations against the two are on the promotion of terrorism, and connected to the Anglophone Crisis.

Their trial at the Bamenda Military Court where they have appeared many times, the cases had been adjourned.

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