By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) – A New York-based university professor jailed for his writings critical of President Paul Biya of Cameroon has been released from prison after an outpouring of support from free speech activists, students and academics around the world.
Stony Brook professor Patrice Nganang, who has dual citizenship in Cameroon and the United States, was facing five years imprisonment for “insulting the president”. He had been held for almost a month before being expelled from the country on December 27, 2017 and sent back to the U.S. where he teaches culture studies and comparative literature at the New York State University at Stony Brook. He is a published novelist and poet.
Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon and educated in Cameroon and Germany, he was awarded a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. During 2006–2007 he was the Randolph Distinguished Visiting Associate Professor of German Studies at Vassar College. He was an instructor at the Shippensburg University until 2007. His 1999 novel Temps de chien was awarded the Prix Littéraire Marguerite Yourcenar in 2001 and the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 2002.
Nganang’s arrest on December 6, 2017 took place at the International Airport at Douala, just one day after a column he wrote for the French-language news magazine Jeune Afrique criticized how Biya and the Cameroonian government were violently repressing the country’s English-speaking minority.
Nganang described the offending article. “I had been traveling through the northwest and the southwest – a region that has been effectively cut away from public opinion… It is a region where a war is being waged… completely militarized. People live in conditions I have never seen. So in my article, I simply described what I saw.”
After being held incommunicado in the horrific Kondengui maximum security jail for several days, he appeared in court accused of multiple offenses for a Facebook post he wrote and for offending President Biya.
“The detention of Patrice Nganang is an outrage and Cameroonian authorities must immediately release him without charge and allow him to travel,” said CPJ Africa (Committee to Protect Journalists, Africa) Program Coordinator Angela Quintal from South Africa. “Cameroon seems intent on violating the right to freedom of expression to silence critical voices, including in the press.”
As the campaign to free Nganang gathered momentum, it shone a harsh light on the state of press freedom in that country. Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka offered a letter of support. A GoFundMe page for his legal fees, organized by his wife, Nyasha Bakare, raised $4,635 in 19 days.
This was not the first crackdown on writers and journalists by the Biya regime. Last summer, two journalists and a freelance documentary filmmaker covering the unrest in two English-speaking regions were jailed for seven months before criminal proceedings were dismissed by the government. All three had faced trial by military tribunal under Cameroon’s anti-terror law.
Ahmed Abba, a journalist working for Radio France International was convicted in 2016 of the “non-denunciation of terrorism” and “laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts” while covering the refugee crisis precipitated by the extremist group Boko Haram. In April 2017 he was acquitted of “apologizing for acts of terrorism” but convicted of two other terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 55 million CFAs. He was finally released last month and received the International Press Freedom Award of 2017 from the Committee to Protect Journalists. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 January 2018]
Photo: Patrice Nganang by Georges Seguin (Okki) – Own work, 28 March 2010, Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
facebook.com/IDN.GoingDeeper – twitter.com/InDepthNews