A Cameroonian journalist says the BBC did not fully support him after his work for the World Service forced him to claim asylum.
Thomas Nguanyi, a prize-winning journalist with the BBC World Service and a founding member of the Cameroon Association of Commonwealth Journalists, was hospitalised in early April after collapsing in detention at Harwich International Port. He was not released back to the police upon dismissal from the hospital and instead went into hiding.
Nguanyi was arrested by the Cameroonian authorities last year together with the South African journalist Farouk Chotia on the disputed Bakassi peninsula between Cameroon and Nigeria, and was accused of espionage. Diplomatic pressure helped secure his release, but now Nguanyi fears for his life should he be forced to return.
‘The BBC whisked me off to the UK for security reasons and to cool off the heat but my family continued to be harassed,’ writes Nguanyi in an email sent from an unknown UK location. His family changed address after his detention, but kept receiving anonymous phonecalls and intimidating late-night visits. His sister was taken away, interrogated and tortured when failing to reveal his whereabouts.
‘From the on-going hunt for me, it is now very clear that our release last year was only meant to separate me and my colleague and to deal with me later,’ Nguanyi writes. ‘The first thing that will happen to me should I be deported is that I will be handed over to the same security agents who arrested us last July. I will also be subjected to the usual torture and thrown in prison again.’
Nguanyi, who is known among journalists as Ange Ngu Thomas, unsuccessfully sought asylum in the UK last August. ‘One of the reasons why I was refused was that I had no support from the BBC,’ he writes. ‘I must thank the BBC for taking me out of Cameroon, but I was embarrassed when my bosses at the BBC African Service tried to convince me to return and continue reporting,’ Nguanyi writes. ‘I found it inconceivable that I ran into trouble in my country because of the work I was doing for the BBC and did not get the necessary support I needed here in Britain. I am only looking for a safe haven for as long as the present regime that has targeted me remains in place in Cameroon.’
His appeal against the rejection of his asylum claim failed partly because evidence from a Franch-language newspaper had not been translated.
Nguanyi has had problems walking and is on medication; he cites stress and a poor diet while in detention as reasons for his collapse. ‘I could not afford to return to detention again when released from the hospital, as I was only staggering,’ he writes.
‘Thomas is very, very frightened,’ says John O from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) which has launched a petition to stop the deportation. But once a person disappears it becomes much harder to campaign. ‘There is nothing we can do if the person in question is not around,’ he says.
Cameroon has a history of political detentions. Human rights activists, political leaders and journalists have been targeted during the last few years, according to various Amnesty International reports. Reporters Without Borders has also voiced concern about increasing levels of press censorship and imprisonment of journalists.