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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bruno Bidjang, Cameroonian journalist, held in custody for alleged involvement in ‘rebellion’

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Dakar, February 15, 2024—Cameroonian authorities must immediately release journalist Bruno François Bidjang, drop legal proceedings against him for alleged rebellion, and allow journalists to comment freely on public affairs, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday.

On February 6, gendarmes from the Yaoundé State Secretariat for Defense (SED) summoned Bidjang, managing director of the privately-owned L’Anecdote media group and news program presenter on Vision 4 television, to secretariat headquarters for questioning. He was then detained on allegations of “rebellion” in connection with a video posted and later removed on TikTok, according to his lawyer Charles Tchoungang and an official from L’Anecdote who asked not to be named for security reasons.

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On February 8, Bidjang appeared in a Yaoundé military court, where a judge sent him back to the SED for “further investigation.” Bidjang appeared again before the court on Tuesday, February 13, and was questioned further, according to a person familiar with the case who asked not to be named for safety reasons.

“Cameroonian authorities must immediately release Bruno Bidjang without charge and drop its investigation into allegations of ‘rebellion’ against him,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program, from New York. “Journalists must be free to comment and share criticism about issues of public interest without fear of reprisal.”

Tchoungang told CPJ that investigators questioned Bidjang in relation to a TikTok video he posted in early February commenting about a local socialite, Hervé Bopda, who was arrested on January 31 after allegations that he had committed multiple rape and sexual assaults prompted national outrage.

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Bidjang discussed in the TikTok video the public outcry that led to Bopda’s arrest and said there are other “more important things that the Cameroonian people are not focusing on,” such as the “condition of the roads, access to water, electricity and embezzlement”, according to CPJ’s review of the video.

Under Cameroon’s penal code, rebellion by “inciting resistance to the application of laws, regulations or legitimate orders from public authority” is punishable by imprisonment of three months to four years.

Denis Omgba Bomba, director of the media observatory at Cameroon’s Ministry of Communication, told CPJ that he is not familiar with the facts of the case, but said that L’Anecdote issued a statement that “was clear” about the allegations against Bidjang.

The statement, issued on February 7 by L’Anecdote communications head Christine Toulou Ndzana, said that Bidjang’s comments “undermined republican institutions” and that an investigation had been opened to “clarify responsibilities.”

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On the same day, in a memo circulated by news sites, L’Anecdote asked its employees not to make “analyses, comments or simply give their opinion on current events on their social media.”

The founder and CEO of L’Anecdote, Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, was arrested in February 2023, in connection with the torture and murder of Cameroonian journalist Martinez Zogo, who had accused Belinga of corruption. Belinga remains in pre-trial detention at Kondengui Prison in the capital, Yaounde. Bidjang, who was also arrested last year in connection to the Zogo killing, was eventually released pending investigation, as CPJ reported at the time. Bidjang was recently questioned again about the Zogo murder, but the latest arrest is unrelated, according to his lawyer.

READ ALSO: Four Nigerian journalists charged with cybercrime, defamation over fraud investigation

On February 8, communications Minister Rene Sadi, issued a general press release saying that freedom of expression could not be understood as the right to excesses of any kind, in particular “incitement to sedition and hostility against the homeland.”

Cameroon was ranked as sub-Saharan Africa’s third-worst jailer of journalists in CPJ’s annual prison census, with six imprisoned as of December 1, 2023. One journalist, Stanislas Désiré Tchoua, was released on December 28 after serving a prison sentence for defamation and insult.

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