RSF has been condemning Ahmed Abba’s arbitrary and improper detention ever since his arrest in the far-north city of Maroua on 30 July 2015. He is now being tried before a military court in Yaoundé and is facing a possible death sentence under the 2014 anti-terrorism law on charges of “complicity in terrorist acts” and “failure to report terrorist acts.”
During the eight months since his trial began in November 2015, only five hearings have been held and the court has yet to begin considering the substance of the case. The repeated adjournments have been due to changes in judges, scheduling issues and, above all, the prosecution’s apparent inability to produce witnesses. The sixth hearing is cheduled for 3 August.
Abba’s lawyer, Charles Tchoungang, reports having been kidnapped and drugged by unidentified individuals on the eve of a hearing on 25 April with the apparent aim of preventing him from defending his client. In the event, he did make it to the court for the hearing, but only just.
Tchoungang discussed the case in an interview with RSF.
RSF: The 3 August hearing will be the sixth to be held in the year that Abba has spent in detention. But the judges have yet to examine the substance of the case?
CT: That is correct. It must be said that his case is special. Firstly, for the first three months after his arrest, no one knew where he was or no one wanted to say. The authorities eventually admitted they were holding him secretly. And even then, the matter had to be raised with the president’s office. He had been transferred to the intelligence services in Yaoundé, he had been questioned without a lawyer being present, and he had been transferred directly to a military court without a proper judicial investigation. During this period, he was also clearly subjected to physical and psychological mistreatment. At the next hearing, we will ask for a special session to be scheduled so that the substance of the case can finally be considered.
RSF: So Abba is being tried before a military court?
CT: Yes, Ahmed Abba is being prosecuted under an exceptional jurisdiction established by the December 2014 anti-terrorism law, which departs from the penal code. The principles of a fair trial have not in any way been respected. We have drawn attention to these many violations of his constitutional rights and, in April, we asked for the proceedings to be voided. But the judges ignored the request. He is facing a possible death sentence and yet the prosecution has absolutely no evidence against him.
RSF: Other journalists who are being prosecuted on similar charges – Baba Wame, Rodrigue Ndeutchoua Tongue and Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola – are not in detention. Why is Abba being treated differently?
CT: I think he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was initially arrested in the course of a routine check, but when the police learned that he was RFI’s correspondent, he was handed over to the political police in Yaoundé and was accused of passing information to the country’s enemies. I have checked all of his reporting and it is beyond reproach. In my view, the only aggravating circumstance is the fact that he works for a leading French radio station. As you know, there is a big anti-French current of opinion in Cameroon and some officials may have wanted to pull off a stunt.
What we now want is for Ahmed Abba to be freed, to be reunited with his family and, very importantly, to be able to return to work. I am convinced that I am defending an innocent man.
Ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Cameroon has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects journalists and their sources.