The President of the Cameroon Journalism Trade Union, Dennis Nkwebo, has condemned the arrest of a Nigerian-based Cameroonian journalist, Simon Ateba, who is being detained by the country’s military authorities on charges of espionage.
The President of the Cameroon Union of Journalists, Charles Ndi Chia, and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, CPJ, have also condemned the journalist’s arrest and demanded that he be immediately released.
Mr. Ateba, a Cameroonian wo has worked as a journalist in Nigeria for over a decade, was arrested on Friday afternoon at the Minawao refugee camp and taken to Makolo in the far north of Cameroon and has been accused of spying for the Boko Haram insurgency group which is waging a Jihadist war in north east Nigeria. He has spent two nights in detention.
Mr. Nkwebo condemned Mr. Ateba’s arrest as high handed, observing that the journalist had not committed any offence by going to report on activities there.
“He is a Cameroonian even if he is working in Nigeria and he has not committed any offence by going to report the refugee situation at the camp. We condemn his arrest as he was arrested in the course of doing his legitimate journalistic work and demand his release,” Mr. Nkwebo stated.
According to the Cameroon journalists’ union president, there is no law in the country which forbids any journalist from reporting the refugee camps.
Mr. Nkwebo added that the military authorities even had no right to arrest anybody for going into the refugee camps since the facility is controlled and run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, and not the government.
“I have gone there to report events there at the camp many times and even taken photographs and nobody stopped me,” he observed.
He lamented that even local journalists suffer repression in the hands of the military authorities, noting that journalists in Cameroon had been dragged to military tribunals before for possessing information that the authorities think they should have shared with the government.
“Freedom of expression is under attack in Cameroon and journalists in this country will continue to resist all attempts to supress the Press,” Mr. Nkwebo asserted.
Mr. Chia is also reported to have condemned Ateba’s arrest and promised to do everything possible to effect his release. According to Bisong Etabohen, a Cameroonian journalist and publisher, who spoke to our reporter on Saturday, Mr. Chia, expressed dismay at the arrest and promised to ensure that he is released as soon as possible.
In its own reaction, the CPJ, in a brief statement issued Saturday by its West African representative, Peter Nkanga, said the journalist’s arrest and continued detention was uncalled for as he was doing legitimate business of reporting an issue of public interest.
“Authorities should release Simon Ateba immediately and allow journalists access to the camp, and the people within, to report those stories of public interest which have remained shrouded in secrecy and underreported for too long,” mr. Nkanga stated.
Mr. Ateba was arrested at the Minawao refugee camp in the far north of the country at about noon on Friday and taken to Mokolo, some twelve kilometres away, where he was detained.
He was in Cameroon to report on the conditions of refugees in the camp when he was arrested and accused of spying for the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency group.
He said he has been told that he would be taken to Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, and handed over to the secret police to be tried for espionage.
Dayo Aiyetan, executive director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, which awarded a grant to Mr. Ateba to conduct the investigation, expressed worry that the journalist’s whereabouts are no longer known as nobody has been able to reach him since Saturday afternoon.
“I was in contact with him even as he was detained but since about 4.00 pm or so I have not been able to reach him,” Mr. Aiyetan stated Saturday evening.
He added that Mr. Ateba complained that he had not been given food or water for over 24 hours and had not been allowed to buy drugs to treat a feverish condition that developed after he was beaten by rain.
When contacted over the matter, the Cameroon minister of information, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, said he was not aware of the journalist’s arrest. Although the minister was told that he had not been fed or given access to medication to treat a fever, he said that there was nothing he could do until Monday or Tuesday.
This report was first published by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (www.icirnigeria.org). We have their permission to republish here.