After being held in Cameroon "for propagating false news" for 10 months, journalist Emmanuel Mbombog Mbog Matip has gone on a hunger strike in prison in Yaounde, according to Alex Koko à Dang, the head of the national journalists' union SYNAJIC.
Matip is the director of Climat Social daily in Cameroon, a newspaper which posts political commentary on Facebook.
According to the New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Matip was picked up by six armed men in plain clothes and held at the State Secretariat for Defense until 7 September.
Matip was then brought in front of a military court judge who charged him with "propagation of false news" and ordered his detention in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé until 7 March, 2021.
His release date came and went and he is still in prison, with no update on his case.
"Cameroonian authorities should immediately release journalist Emmanuel Mbombog Mbog Matip and cease the outrageous use of military courts to prosecute the press," said Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa program coordinator.
Support for Biya
Matip wrote a letter to President Paul Biya where he spelled out that he has a disability. His feet were amputated after a traffic accident and he is the president of the National League for Defense of the Rights of Disadvantaged People, said à Dang, who showed the letter to CPJ.
A Dang said that Matip stopped publishing Climat Social in 2019 due to lack of funding, but had continued reporting mainly on his personal Facebook page.
The reporting he had done in the months before his arrest expressed support for Biya, according to posts reviewed by CPJ.
Matip had been investigating an alleged coup attempt involving Colonel Joël Émile Bamkoui, commander of Cameroon's Division of Military Security and other senior officials.
Cameroonian authorities should immediately release journalist Emmanuel Mbombog Mbog Matip and all other members of the press imprisoned for their work.https://t.co/exzvQGkJza - Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) April 14, 2021
'One of the worst jailers of journalists'
A Dang told CPJ that Matip had denounced this on local radio broadcasts, but the media watchdog was unable to verify the recordings. He added that Matip wanted to alert Biya to the coup attempt via an audio message.
"The CamerounWeb news report stated that the individual was an informant for Bamkoui, and that reaching out to them may have contributed to the journalist's arrest," according to CPJ.
Both à Dang and CamerounWeb said that Bamkoui beat and threatened Matip while he was at the State Secretariat for Defense, and that the journalist had the wounds to prove it.
This is not the first time a Cameroonian journalist has been put through military courts, nor the first reports of beatings. In 2020, 300 days after police in Buea held popular pidgin journalist Wazizi incommunicado, his alleged torture and death was announced in Cameroonian media.
Wazizi had also been put through a military trial, and was held at Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, the same prison as Matip. The military finally admitted in 2020 that Wazizi had been killed in August 2019.
"The fact that Cameroon remains one of the worst jailers of journalists in Africa is a grave indicator of the broader conditions for the media there," said CPJ Africa program coordinator Quintal.