Thomas Awah, Jr.

Cameroon
Date of Birth: January 3, 1969
Occupation: Journalist
Arrested: January 2, 2017
Charges: Terrorism, secession, and the spreading of false news
Sentence: 11 years
Expected Release: January 2028

Thomas Awah, Jr. is a journalist and activist detained in Cameroon since 2017. He is serving an 11 year prison sentence for reporting on protests in the Anglophone region.

Prior to his arrest, Awah worked in the Anglophone region as a correspondent for the privately-owned Afrik 2 Radio, as publisher of Aghem Messenger magazine, and communications secretary of the non-violent secessionist Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), a group banned by the government. He had prior encounters with the government due to his journalism and activism and was detained on several occasions in 2015, though he has never been tried or convicted before.

His most recent arrest occurred on January 2, 2017 when he was seeking to interview residents of a town in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. Military officers stopped Awah as he was traveling alone. Once Awah identified himself as a journalist the authorities placed him under arrest without a warrant or any specific charges. The officers discovered Awah was carrying SCNC documents when they searched him. Two weeks later, the government would ban the SCNC on national security grounds.

After his arrest, Awah was taken to an unknown prison where he was interrogated for four hours about the Anglophone secessionist movement. On the same evening, he was transferred nearly 250 miles away to the capital city, Yaoundé, for pre-trial detention.

In May 2018, Awah was tried before a military tribunal along with two other journalists, Tsi Conrad and Mancho Bibixy, as well as five other Anglophone detainees; despite the men having no apparent relationship. It was here that Awah first learned of the charges against him, which included terrorism, hostility to the fatherland, secession, revolution, insurrection, the spreading of false news, the spreading of false news through electronic means, and contempt for civil authority. After a one-day trial he was found guilty of these charges and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Awah is currently detained in Kondengui Central Prison, where he shares an overcrowded cell with 25 other prisoners, several of whom are forced to sleep on the ground for lack of beds. He suffers from several medical conditions, including tuberculosis and toxoplasmosis, which have been exacerbated by poor prison conditions.

Freedom Now and Dechert LLP filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Awah in October 2020.

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