Ahmed Abba – two years in prison for nothing

On the eve of the second anniversary of Ahmed Abba’s arrest in northern Cameroon, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its support for this radio reporter and its condemnation of his ten-year jail sentence on an absurd terrorism-related charge, and again calls for his release.

Radio France Internationale’s Hausa-language correspondent, Ahmed Abba has been held ever since his arrest in the far-north city of Maroua two years ago, on 30 July 2015, for allegedly collaborating with the Jihadi armed group Boko Haram, whose activities he was simply covering as a journalist.

Held incommunicado for months, he was finally tried before a military court in Yaoundé and was sentenced on 24 April to ten years in prison and a fine of 85,000 euros on a charge of “laundering the proceeds of a terrorist act.” The verdict was incomprehensible, says his lawyer, Charles Tchoungang, who is appealing.

Ever since Abba’s arrest, his lawyer, RFI and RSF have been insisting on his innocence and condemning the many flaws in the judicial proceedings, which have fallen far short of due process.

“Ahmed Abba has no place behind bars because the case against him was non-existent, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. We call for his conviction to be overturned because it was based on allegations that were never supported by tangible evidence or independent experts. This judicial persecution reflects the hostility of the Cameroonian authorities towards the media, who have been sacrificed on the altar of security and the fight against terrorism.”


Travesty of justice

Abba’s trial dragged on for more than a year because of repeated adjournments on a range of absurd grounds including an inability to produced prosecution witnesses, experts whose qualifications were rejected, the main judge’s absences and a failure to keep deadlines.

All of the requests for Abba’s release that his lawyers presented in the course of the trial’s 18 hearings were systematically ignored. At no point was the prosecution able to produce any hard evidence of his guilt. It was only at the 15th hearing, in February, that Abba was finally allowed to give the court his version of the events.

RSF repeatedly urged the Cameroonian authorities to abandon the case while RFI produced a great of irrefutable evidence of his innocence. One of the charges, condoning terrorism, was dropped during the trial but others were maintained despite the lack of any evidence


Victim of mounting security fears

Abba was the victim of growing alarm about Boko Haram, a terrorist group that the Cameroonian security forces have been combatting for at least five years. For a long time, he was facing a possible death sentence and it was under a controversial terrorism law adopted in June 2014 that he was tried by military court.

He was held incommunicado for the first three months after his arrest, during which he was subjected to mistreatment amounting to torture without ever being able to receive medical treatment or see his family or lawyer, who was not allowed access to the prosecution case file.

Cameroon is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.