Statement on the arrest and detention
of The SUN’s Political Desk Editor,
Atia Tilarious Azhonwi and two others
We were alerted on Thursday, February 9 about the arrest and detention of our Political Desk Editor and Fako Bureau Chief, Atia Tilarious Azhonwi and two other journalists; Amos Fufong of The Guardian Post Newspaper and Mofor.... of The Voice of The Voiceless Newspaper at the Molyko neighbourhood in Buea at about 10 Pm.
The head office quickly dispatched a team made up of The Sun’s Managing Editor/CEO, Wasso Norbert Binde and Editor, Elah Geoffrey Mbong to Buea very early the next day to find out the circumstances that led to their arrest and demand for their immediate release.
On reaching Buea, and after checking at the Central Police Station and later at the Molyko precinct, where their arrest was confirmed, we were asked to come back in two hours.
On our return to the Molyko precinct, we met the trio who had already been removed from the cell to the holding area, stripped of their shoes and shirts, understandably distraught and visibly shaken. Mofor already had a punctured lip and wounds on his feet and was in cuffs-wounds he later said he sustained from police assault.
The police commissioner, realising we were journalists (by this time we had been joined by a few Buea-based reporters) pushed to justify the arrest of the trio. He called on the journalists one after another to admit that they have committed an offence.
Mofor admitted he has committed an offense but Atia and Fufong raised their hands in objection. The commissioner then went ahead to state that they had intelligence report that Mofor who is based in Bamenda was coming to Buea to distribute some pro Southern Cameroon National Council, SCNC (now outlawed) tracts. He said on Mofor’s arrival in Buea, plainclothes officers had tracked his movements and discovered that he had kept the bag containing the tracts in Amos’ house and further went into town trying to recruit some bike riders to help him circulate them.
He said Mofor was later apprehended flagrant delicto and taken to the station where he attempted to fight the officers. “That is where he sustained his injuries.” He said
Mofor admitted to having transported some three thousand tracts from Bamenda but said the tracts did not call for any form of violence.
The Commissioner also faulted Amos Fofung for keeping a bag that contained what has been considered illegal in his house but Amos said he had no idea what was in the bag and was just doing a favour for an old acquaintance who needed help after travelling the whole night. He insisted that he was shocked to later learn of the content of the bag.
To Atia, the Commissioner said he has flunked the warning from the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL) against propagating false information by having strike and ghost town-related messages in his phone. Atia was quick to point out that he has never forwarded any strike-related message and does not have control over who sends him a text message. The commissioner said he should have deleted the messages as soon as he received them. Atia told him that he has always done so except for the ones that came in after his arrest and when his phone was in the commissioner’s keeping.
The commissioner also accused Atia and Amos of feeding the leaders of the outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, CACSC, with information- accusations which the duo vehemently denied.
Upon the demand for the release of the duo who had visibly not committed any offence, the commissioner confessed that the matter is above his level and his hands were tied. He said several police units were involved in the operation and that there was nothing he could do.
We later contacted several relevant authorities who assured us of intervening within their limits of power and we were sent home with a glimmer of assurance that at least Atia Tilarious and Amos Fufong would be set free on that same day. We learned that the Divisional Officer, D.O. of Buea... later paid them a visit and asked them a few questions.
After failing to get the news of their release later that they, our team mobilised for a second day of intervention only to be informed early in the morning by some colleagues in Buea that the trio were transferred to the judicial police on the evening of Friday, February 10 and transported to Yaounde in the night.
After several attempts to get the location where they were being held, we later learned they were being detained at the Judicial Police headquarters in Yaounde. All attempts by our lawyers and other concerned individuals to get to them proved futile as the officials said they were under strict orders not to let anyone see them. They have been held incommunicado since their arrest and no official charges have been filed against them yet.
An eye witness to their arrest, another journalist (names withheld) told us that on that fateful day of their arrest, he was with Atia and Amos who had just come back from a trip to Douala, discussing by the roadside when two pickup vehicles loaded with police officers flashed in front of them. The police had with them a handcuffed and battered Mofor whom they asked to point at the door of the house where he had kept his bag upon arrival in Buea. The three journalists curiously followed the team to find out what was going on only to find out that Amos’ house was fingered and ransacked. They pleaded for information and were told that Mofor was under arrest for having tracts in his possession.
They were all later rounded up and lumped into the police vans for further questioning at the station, our witness said he was later asked to get off the police van with no explanation as to why Atia and Fofung were being taken to the station and not him.
We wish to state here that this is not the first time Atia Tilarious has been arrested. About three weeks before, Atia Tilarious was whisked into a police van while distributing newspapers along the streets of Buea. He was taken to the same police station by the same commissioner who ordered him to surrender his phones and USB key. These items were searched for well over an hour before they were returned to him after nothing incriminating was found. He was asked to go home with no explanation as to why he was arrested in the first place.
In the light of the above, The Management and Staff of The SUN Newspaper condemn in very strong terms, the arrest and detention of our Political Desk Editor, Atia Tilarious without due process and call for his immediate release as well as that of The Guardian Post Buea reporter, Amos Fufong.