Friday, February 12, 2010

Authorities urged to account for two journalists held incommunicado by intelligence agency

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls on National Security Chief Emmanuel Edou to immediately explain what has happened to two journalists, Simon Hervé Nko'o and Serge Sabouang, who were arrested by members of the General Directorate for External Investigation (DGRE), an intelligence agency, on 5 February 2010. There has been no news of them since then.

"The unacceptable manner in which these two journalists have been arrested resembles the 'abductions' of journalists in Zimbabwe at the height of the repression orchestrated by Robert Mugabe," Reporters Without Borders said. "Such practices have no place in a country such as Cameroon which claims to respect the rule of law."

The press freedom organisation added: "The authorities must publicly state what offence these journalists are alleged to have committed and where they are being held. The journalists must also be allowed to communicate with their families."

It is believed that Nko'o, a reporter for the Douala-based weekly "Bebela", and Sabouang, the editor of the fortnightly "La Nation", are being held at DGRE headquarters in Yaoundé. When Nko'o was arrested, his home was searched from top to bottom and was ransacked shortly thereafter.

"Bebela" publisher Henriette Ekwé said Nko'o was arrested "because he had a document that is compromising for powerful people in Cameroon," adding that this included Laurent Esso, the secretary-general of the president's office. The document, about a questionable transaction, has been described by Esso as a fabrication designed to discredit him.

Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a local source who requested anonymity, the publishers of two other privately-owned newspapers, Bibi Ngota of the "Cameroun Express" and Robert Mintsa of "Le Devoir", were also briefly detained in the same case on 5 February.

Four journalists – Ananie Bindzi, Alex Azebaze, Thierry Ngongang and Aboya Manassé – were meanwhile questioned on 9 February by the public prosecutor in connection with comments they made on the STV programme "Cards on the Table" in June 2008 about judicial proceedings in an anti-corruption drive known as Operation Sparrowhawk.

The four journalists are facing up to three years in prison and fines of 5 million CFA francs (approx. US$10,000). The case has been adjourned until 9 March because additional defence attorneys have been named.

From our international desk

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