April 10, 2017

Prosecutor requests death penalty for RFI reporter in Cameroon

Ahmed Abba ©AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the acquittal of Radio France Internationale reporter Ahmed Abba, who is being tried before a military court in Yaoundé. The organisation also condemns yesterday’s hasty summing-up by the prosecution, which ended with a sudden request for the death penalty.

Yesterday’s hearing was the 16th in Ahmed Abba’s trial on charges of failing to report acts of terrorism to the authorities, condoning terrorism, and concealing information in connection with his coverage of attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram. A reporter for RFI’s Hausa-language service, he has been held ever since his arrest 20 months ago.

After a summing-up that lasted only ten minutes, the prosecutor shocked the courtroom by asking for the death penalty without first demonstrating Abba’s guilt on any of the charges. The prosecutor said he had kept the summing-up short because he felt ill. The case was adjourned until 20 April.

“The contrast between the summing-up’s superficiality and the gravity of the sentence sought is staggering,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The prosecutor’s haste to request a sentence without being able to prove Ahmed Abba’s guilt shows that he has no case, as we have said all along. We ask the court to take a just decision based on the tangible evidence demonstrating Abba’s innocence.”

In a summing-up for the defence that lasted nearly three hours, Abba’s lawyers demonstrated not only the lack of a case against their client but also the prosecution’s failure to respect judicial procedure and Cameroon’s laws.

Taking turns to address the court, the defence lawyers said the prosecution had failed to produce any convincing material evidence to support the allegations against Abba, had failed to demonstrate any intent to commit the alleged crimes and had furthermore presented its sentence request at the wrong point in the trial.

They also argued that the charge of failing to report acts of terrorism to the authorities violated article 50 of Cameroon’s 1990 media law, which protects the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. They ended their summing-up by asking the court to acquit Abba on all charges.

Following his arrest in July 2015, Abba had to wait several months before being taken before a judge and has remained in detention even since the judicial proceedings began in November 2015.

His trial quickly acquired political overtones because of the gravity of the charges and the prosecution’s failure to produce evidence. Representatives of several European embassies have attended hearings in a show of support for Abba. One of the original charges, “complicity in terrorism,” was dropped by the prosecution on 3 March.

RFI’s management has issued a statement saying it expects that 20 April, the day the verdict is due to be delivered, “will be the day that Ahmed Abba’s innocence is recognized and will be the last day of his ordeal, because 628 days in detention is definitely too many for an innocent man.”

Cameroon is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.