Cameroonian journalist Ahmed Abba was sentenced to 10 years in jail, accused of collaborating with Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist militants. Lawyers for Abba, who has been jailed since 2015 say he is innocent and claim he has been tortured by security agents. Amnesty International has called for his immediate release.
DOUALA, CAMEROON (APRIL 25, 2017) (REUTERS) – A Cameroonian military tribunal on Monday (April 24) sentenced a journalist to 10 years in prison on terrorism charges, including for failing to report acts of terrorism to authorities, in a trial that has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups.
The court had been told that evidence was found in Ahmed Abba’s computer showing he had been in contact with Boko Haram Islamist militants and that they had communicated information to him about future attacks.
Abba, a Cameroonian journalist for Radio France International (RFI), could have faced the death penalty on the charges.
Since his arrest in July 2015, Abba has denied the charges, brought against him under an anti-terrorism law passed the year before.
The 2014 law was created to help combat militants from Nigeria-based Boko Haram whose fighters regularly launch attacks in Cameroon.
Abba’s sentence has drawn outrage from rights groups and other journalists.
Cameroon’s journalist trade union president, Denis Nkwebo said the sentence poseD a severe threat to press freedom in the country.
“We, I think that this sentence is a message to the entire community of journalism in Cameroon, meaning that the practice of our job has become a criminal activity. We are not criminals, we are reporters and as such we deserve the respect of freedom of practice, freedom to report in any matters including military matters without being accused of terrorism or any other criminal offence,” Nkwebo said.
Judge Edou Mewoutou also ordered Abba to pay a fine of 55 million CFA Francs ($90,000) and barred him from speaking to the media about the trial.
A lawyer for Abba said he would appeal the sentence.
At a local television station, Canal 2 in Cameroon’s largest city Douala, journalist Kejan Henry is filming his talk show. Henry accuses the government of trying to muzzle independent media and civil society, especially those that are critical of the regime.
“To me, it is tantamount to silencing the press in the country. This is just a replica of what to Dele Giwa of Nigeria in the 1980’s. He was killed through a mail bomb by the brutal regime of president Ibrahim Babaginda. So sentencing Abba will mean we will not have the audacity to say certain things, which the government considers government secret,” he said.
Henry said he fears journalists are operating in an increasingly hostile environment that prevents them from working independently.
“Naturally, I fear for my life, because I am a father of children. I am not afraid of my life, if I were a single human being, I would not be afraid. You are afraid because of the children you will leave behind will not be catered for by this same government. What I mean is that the condition are not enabling for my children to survive. The economy is bad, the jobs are not coming,” he added.
The central African country’s veteran ruler, Paul Biya has faced international censure for alleged human rights violations in recent months, including during the suppression of protests in Cameroon’s two western English-speaking regions.
Organisers of those protests are currently on trial, charged under the same anti-terrorism law used against Abba.