A Cameroonian correspondent for Radio France Internationale (RFI), Ahmed Abba, who is serving a 10-year jail term on charges related to terrorism, has won a top press freedom award.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Tuesday named Abba as one of the four journalists to be given its 2017 International Press Freedom Award.
Abba was convicted and sentenced for his coverage of the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group.
The 38-year-old RFI Hausa service correspondent was arrested in the Boko Haram-prone Far North Cameroon city of Maroua in July 2015 and ferried to Yaoundé.
After 635 days in pre-trial detention, the Yaoundé military court in April this year convicted Abba on charges of “non-denunciation of terrorism” and “laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts”.
The journalist could have been sentenced to death under a controversial 2014 anti-terrorism law.
Abba was instead sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $ 92,000 (FCFA 55.7 million) according to his lawyer Clement Nakong, who also hinted sat appealing the court decision.
Colleagues and rights defenders expressed outrage at the court verdict.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said the reporter’s “unfair trial” was a travesty of justice.
“Ahmed Abba’s conviction, after torture and an unfair trial, is clear evidence that Cameroon’s military courts are not competent to try civilians and should not have jurisdiction in these cases,” Ms Ilaria Allegrozzi, the Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher, said at the time.
CPJ Africa Programme Coordinator Angela Quintal said then that the “outrageous sentence” signalled the lengths that Cameroon authorities are willing to go to intimidate the media and thwart freedom of the press.
“Ahmed Abba should never have been detained, prosecuted, and convicted for his journalism–let alone ordered to spend a decade behind bars,” Ms Quintal said.
The Cameroonian is the lone African among the CPJ 2017 International Press Freedom awardees, who also include Patricia Mayorga, a correspondent for the Mexico City-based news magazine, Proceso; Pravit Rojanaphruk, a reporter and press freedom advocate in Thailand; and Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni reporter and blogger.
The CPJ’s 2017 Free the Press campaign calls for increased awareness of journalists imprisoned on anti-state charges.
According to CPJ’s 2016 prison census, at least 182 of 259 journalists jailed late last year were held on anti-state charges.