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Media Groups Demand Release Of Investigative Reporter, Simon Ateba

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba

By Tosin Omoniyi

The Media Rights Agenda, MRA, and the International Press Centre, IPC, on Monday added their voices to calls requesting for the immediate release of a Lagos based Cameroonian journalist, Simon Ateba, who is being detained by the Cameroonian authorities on allegations of espionage.

The Executive Director of MRA, Edetaen Ojo, condemned the arrest and continued detention of the journalist and asked that he should be released unconditionally and immediately.

Ojo said the Cameroonians, in the first place, had no legitimate reason for arresting the reporter for carrying out lawful operations guaranteed by the laws of both nations.

He lamented that the Cameroonians were following the path of infamy toed by some nations in the past, who had clamped down on media freedom to their detriment.

“The (Cameroonian) government must understand that while they may actually be successful in punishing the affected journalist, this ‘success’ comes at a great cost as the government loses credibility every time they engage in this practice, the ultimate consequence being that they trivialize and undermine any legitimate effort they may be making to combat terrorism,” the MRA said.

The MRA director added that the Cameroonian authorities must guarantee the safety of the detained reporter even after he had been released from captivity.

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Also reacting to Ateba’s arrest and detention, the director of the IPC, Lanre Arogundade, in a brief statement, said it was inexplicable that a journalist investigating the suffering of Nigerians who fled to Nigeria in the wake of the horrific and sustained attacks by Boko Haram insurgents , would be arrested for carrying out his legitimate duties.

He added that if the Cameroonian authorities were certain that Ateba had contravened the laws of the country, he should be charged rather than detained illegally.

Arogundade said that the safety of the journalist must be guaranteed by the Cameroonian authorities as they would be held responsible if anything negative happened to him while in detention.

The journalist’s arrest had earlier been condemned by the President of the Cameroon Journalism Trade Union, Dennis Nkwebo, and his counterpart, President of the Cameroon Union of Journalists, Charles Chia, who both called for his unconditional release.

Describing Ateba’s arrest as highhandedness on the part of the military,  Nkwebo observed that the journalist had not committed any offence by going to report on activities there.

“He is a Cameroonian even if he is working in Nigeria and he has not committed any offence by going to report the refugee situation at the camp. We condemn his arrest as he was arrested in the course of doing his legitimate journalistic work and demand his release”, Nkwebo stated.

Chia, on his part, promised to do everything possible to make sure that Ateba was immediately released.

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Also reacting to the arrest, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, CPJ, in a brief statement issued on Saturday by its West African representative, Peter Nkanga, said that the journalist’s arrest and continued detention was uncalled for as he was doing legitimate business of reporting an issue of public interest.

“Authorities should release Simon Ateba immediately and allow journalists access to the camp, and the people within, to report those stories of public interest which have remained shrouded in secrecy and underreported for too long,” Nkanga stated.

Ateba, a former reporter with The News Magazine in Lagos, was conducting an investigation on the condition of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon and Chad when he was arrested on Friday.

The investigation he was carrying out in Cameroon is part of the Nigerian Investigative Reporting Project, NIRP, an initiative of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, supported by Ford Foundation.

Ateba was one of the journalists from across newsrooms in Nigeria who recently got grants for investigative projects.

A Cameroonian who has resided and worked in Nigeria for over a decade, Ateba left Abuja on Sunday, August 23, but was arrested on Friday, 28 at a Nigerian refugees’ camp in Makolo in Cameroon’s far north region as he tried to leave the camp.

 

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