Reporters Without Borders (RSF), other NGOs, performers, journalists and friends have formed a committee to press calls for the release of Ahmed Abba, a Radio France Internationale correspondent in Cameroon, who was given a ten-year jail term in April because he was covering the activities of the Jihadi terrorist group Boko Haram.
The RSF-coordinated support committee has been launched ahead of Abba’s appeal hearing on 17 August in order to step up public and political pressure on the Cameroonian authorities, who should never have arrested Abba. “Bringing together well-known figures from around the world and especially Africa, the committee has decided to begin online by creating a Facebook page in which we will share the messages of his supporters,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This is just the first step. The campaign will grow in strength if the authorities do not free Ahmed Abba.”
The initial support has come above all from the media and music worlds. Hervé Bourges, RFI’s former director and France Télévisions’ former president, and Denise Epoté, the Africa director at TV5 Monde, were among the first to join the committee. So too were Côte d’Ivoire musicians Tiken Jah Fakoly and Magic System founder Salif “Asalfo” Traoré Traoré, and Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo. Mohamed Mustapha, a comedian from Niger better known as Mamane, the Djibouti-born writer Abdourahman Waberi and Tanzanian cartoonist Mohammed “Dr. Meddy” Jumanne are also backing the campaign.
The support committee includes several regional and international NGOs that defend journalists and human rights, such as Africtivistes (a pro-democracy coalition of African cyber-activists), Amnesty International, Journalist in Danger, (JED), the International Federation of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has named Abba as one of the winners of its 2017 International Press Freedom Award. “Each day that RFI journalist Ahmed Abba spends behind bars in a Cameroonian jail is another travesty of justice, which sends a chilling message to the media community in Cameroon,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal.
“We urge the Cameroonian government to free Abba without delay and to right this injustice. The world is watching.” Fifteen French work-based journalists associations, including those at RFI, France 24 and AFP, are also backing the call for the release of Abba, who was RFI’s Hausa- language in Cameroon’s far north.
RSF has not stopped calling for Abba’s release for the past two years. On 24 April, a military court in Yaoundé sentenced him to ten years in prison and a fine of 85,000 euros on a charge of “laundering the proceeds of a terrorist act.” Abba has always claimed his innocence and insists he always kept a professional journalist’s distance with the group. Based initially in northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram began stepping up operations in northern Cameroon in 2014. The proceedings against Abba were marked by gross irregularities.
After his arrest on 30 July 2015, he was held incommunicado and tortured by the intelligence services for nearly three months. No hard evidence was ever produced during the trial, which was postponed 18 times. Cameroon is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, four places lower than in 2016.