June 8, 2016 - Updated on October 21, 2016

RFI correspondent still held on terrorism charges after ten months

Ahmed Abba
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the continuing judicial persecution of Ahmed Abba, Radio France Internationale’s Hausa-language correspondent in northern Cameroon, and urges the authorities to drop all charges and release him at once.

Held provisionally for more than ten months, Abba is due to appear before a military court in Yaoundé today for the latest in a series of hearings that keep on being adjourned. He is charged with complicity in acts of terrorism and failure to report acts of terrorism to the authorities.

Arrested during a routine police check in the northern city Maroua on 30 July, Abba spent 15 days in police custody in Maroua before being handed over to the national intelligence service in Yaoundé, the capital, where he was held incommunicado for three months.

He was denied access to a lawyer throughout this period. He was also denied access to a doctor for treatment to injuries resulting from the beatings he allegedly received. He was finally taken to the national gendarmerie for questioning for the first time on 13 November.

According to his lawyer, he is charged in connection with interviews he conducted in the course of preparing a report on Boko Haram, the Jihadi terrorist group that is active in northern Cameroon as well as northeastern Nigeria and other nearby countries. The authorities say he should have shared his information with them.

“The Cameroonian authorities do not seem to understand the vital importance of the principle of the protection of sources, which allows journalists to get access to sensitive information with greater ease,” RSF said.

“It is unacceptable that a journalist who just did his job has been detained for such a long time and in such appalling conditions. We call on the authorities to free Ahmed Abba without further delay and to abandon all proceedings against him.”

His trial began on 29 February but the military court has repeatedly adjourned its hearings and sent him back to prison. At the hearing on 25 April, the court rejected a motion by his lawyer, Charles Tchoungang, to abandon the prosecution on the grounds of the grave violations of Abba’s rights ever since his arrest.

Abba is not the only Cameroonian journalist being prosecuted on this kind of charge. In January, RSF issued a press release condemning the trial of three journalists, Baba Wame, Rodrigue Ndeutchoua Tongue and Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola, on charges of failing to report a matter affecting state security. The next hearing is scheduled for 17 June.

Cameroonian journalists are often the victims of abuses by the authorities and the police. The National Council for Communication, which is closely allied with the government, has closed five media outlets and suspended 11 journalists since the start of the year.

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