Professor Patrice Nganang is being held in Yaoundé, the capital...

Professor Patrice Nganang is being held in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

A Stony Brook University professor detained last week in Cameroon after the publication of an essay critical of the country’s government has been charged with insulting President Paul Biya on social media and allegedly issuing a death threat, according to a release issued by his friends and family.

Patrice Nganang, 47, an author who teaches in the university’s cultural studies and comparative literature department, was taken into custody by authorities Wednesday while boarding a plane at the airport in Douala, headed for Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. He is being held at the General Delegation National Security detention center in Yaoundé, the country’s capital.

At a Saturday hearing with the judiciary police, Nganang was informed of the charges. His lawyer, Emmanuel Simh, argued that Nganang, who does not own firearms or work with armed groups, did not represent a threat to the president. Simh also emphasized that Nganang has a “long history of peaceful activism promoting democracy,” according to the release.

A State Department official said Sunday that the agency “takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously.”

“We are aware of reports of the arrest of a U.S. citizen in Cameroon,” the official said. “When we are notified of the arrest of a U.S. citizen, we immediately seek to visit him or her.

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook University’s president, said in a statement that they were “working around the clock with the appropriate authorities and elected U.S. representatives to help facilitate the safe return of Professor Nganang.”

Simh said his defense that Nganang neither owns firearms nor works with armed groups was “well received,” and that Nganang will be brought before a prosecutor Monday to determine which further actions might be taken, according to the release.

On Dec. 5, Nganang published an opinion piece for the Jeune Afrique news website that was critical of Biya’s response to pleas by the country’s English-speaking minority population for autonomy from Cameroon’s French-speaking regions, which minority members say are discriminating against them.

“It will probably take another political regime to make the state understand that the machine gun cannot stem a movement,” he wrote, in French. “Only change at the head of the state can settle the anglophone conflict in Cameroon.”

Biya has been president since 1982.

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