YAOUNDE - In Cameroon, lawyers for the Radio France International reporter sentenced to a decade behind bars late Monday already have filed an appeal to overturn his conviction on terrorism-related charges.
Ahmed Abba's defense lawyer Clement Nakong was at the military appeals court in Yaounde early this Tuesday morning to deposit the appeal.
Nakong says Ahmed Abba is innocent. He says they will continue to press for his freedom at the appeal court level. He says in addition to the 10-year jail sentence, Ahmed Abba was ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in court costs. The defense lawyer says they expect the appeals court to overturn Abba’s conviction and cancel the fine.
Abba was arrested in northern Cameroon in July 2015 where he was reporting for the RFI Hausa service on the Boko Haram conflict.
The journalist was charged with complicity in terrorism and failing to denounce acts of terror. He also was accused of acting as an accomplice with two members of Boko Haram.
Testifying during the trial, Abba said he obtained the Boko Haram videos, photos and information found on his phone from YouTube, Facebook and other social media as part of his reporting.
After nearly two years in detention, Abba was found guilty by a military tribunal of two of the three charges. The military prosecutor initially had requested the death penalty, but last week he asked for life imprisonment.
On Monday, Judge Edou Mewoutou arrived at the sentencing hearing nine hours late. He did not give a reason for the delay.
In the courtroom was defense witness and head of the Africa news section of RFI, Yves Rocle.
He says they are totally disappointed with the ruling. He says they will appeal because no proof of guilt was presented. Rocle says they remain very optimistic Abba will be freed. He says an innocent man already has spent more than 21 months in prison.
Rocle said he believes there was external pressure on the judges in this case.
The prosecutor and the government commissioner present in court Monday declined VOA’s requests for interviews.
Amnesty International says Abba was held incommunicado for three months in 2015 and tortured in a state facility.
The international human rights group says his case points to a larger trend — more than 1,000 people have been detained and held in inhumane conditions over alleged support for Boko Haram since the passage of Cameroon's 2014 anti-terror law. Responding to those accusations in July of last year, the government questioned Amnesty International’s research methodology and accused the group of bias.