Cameroonian-American literature professor and author based in New York was arrested on Thursday at Cameroon’s Douala airport over an article he wrote condemning the government’s poor handling of the separatist crisis in the country.
Patrice Nganang was picked up by security agents at the airport when he was about leaving the country to meet his wife in Zimbabwe, his lawyer Emmanuel Simh confirmed to the media.
He was found after a 24-hour search at a government detention centre in the capital Yaounde where the authorities were preparing to charge him for “insulting the president” in an opinion piece published on Tuesday in French online media Jeune Afrique, Simh added.
The article published in French condemned the government’s treatment of citizens in the English-speaking regions where separatists who are calling for independence are facing deadly repression and violent attacks from the government forces.
Nganang condemned the deployment of the military to the South West region where civilians in five villages have been ordered to leave their homes as troops battle separatists described as terrorists by the government.
“It will probably take another political regime to make the state understand that the machine gun cannot stem a movement. Only a change in the head of state can solve the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon.
“Are we going towards the forced relocation of populations and the creation of (refugee) camps? An offensive situation against the Cameroonian people, a precedent for resistance with its refugee camps,” Nganang said in the article.
He also questioned the government over its decision to label the people as terrorists when their leaders have sought dialogue to solve the crisis which has seen thousands flee to neighbouring Nigeria after the killing of dozens.
“Is everyone here an arsonist? … who are these terrorists mentioned by the President of the Republic while he clearly refuses dialogue demanded by everyone including the English protest leaders?
“Can bilingual Cameroonians be enemies in a country whose president has never, in his political career, said a single speech nor conducted an interview in English?”
The Stony Brook University literature professor is expected to be tried soon in the country where the government is intolerant of dissent. He was briefly arrested in 2014 when he visited Douala.
His book Temps de Chien (Dog Days) in its original French version won the Prix Marguerite Yourcenar in 2001, and later the Grand Prix of Black African Literature.
An online petition has been launched by a group of 17 international writers calling on the Cameroonian government to free Patrice Nganang. Human rights organisations have also added their voice for his release.
“Cameroon seems intent on violating the right to freedom of expression to silence critical voices, including in the press. The detention of Patrice Nganang is an outrage and Cameroonian authorities must immediately release him without charge and allow him to travel,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal.
President Stanley on the arrest of Professor Patrice Nganang: “We are aware of the situation and are working around the clock with the appropriate authorities and elected representatives to help facilitate the safe return of Professor Nganang.” #Cameroon https://t.co/pNa5Jx8Qn1
— Stony Brook U. (@stonybrooku) December 7, 2017