27 March 2017

Cameroon: Journalist Testifies He Is Not a Boko Haram Accomplice

A court in Cameroon has again adjourned a trial for a foreign reporter accused nearly two years ago of "complicity" with the Boko Haram terrorist group.

Ahmed Abba of Radio France International's Hausa language service says he has done nothing wrong, but he has been in custody for nearly five months and faces a death sentence if convicted.

His hearing Friday at the Yaounde military court was his first since November. During cross-examination to find out how he got videos and photos purportedly from Boko Haram, Abba said he downloaded some from YouTube and Facebook, while others were being shared on other social media.

Asked how he got information security services had discovered on his phone announcing planned attacks that never came to pass, the RFI reporter said all the information he had was shared on social media.

Journalist threatened, too

Abba questioned why the court did not believe him, adding that he also was threatened by Boko Haram, which might have gotten his telephone number from his Facebook page.

Cameroon judicial police said they interpreted discussions allegedly conducted between Boko Haram members and Abba speaking in the Hausa language. One of the messages was about a planned airplane attack, and another, which Abba claimed was from a friend, invited him to pray and fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Defense witness Yves Rocle, head of the Africa news section of RFI, testified that Abba had been an objective reporter since joining the organizattion.

Defense counsel Charles Tchoungang said the cross-examination sounded intimidating, but he was happy the trial had at last begun. He said nobody knew the whereabouts of Abba three months after he was arbitrarily arrested.

Documents required

The case was adjourned until April 6 to enable RFI to provide written documents that Abba is its correspondent in Cameroon. The court said verbal testimony from Rocle was not enough.

Abba was arrested in northern Cameroon in July 2015 and was taken to Yaounde two weeks later. His first court appearance was in November of that year. He faces charges of complicity in terrorism and failing to denounce acts of terror, according to the charge sheet provided by the court. He also is accused of acting as an accomplice with two members of Boko Haram, and of failing to warn authorities of activities by Boko Haram.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a media freedom organization, sent a letter to Cameroon President Paul Biya early this year that called for Abba to be released and charges against him to be dropped.

Cameroon introduced capital punishment for involvement in terror attacks or complicity in terrorism in 2014.

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