A Stony Brook University professor who was taken into custody at a Cameroon airport earlier this month has been ordered released by a judge and is on his way back to the United States, his wife said Wednesday.
Patrice Nganang, a professor in the cultural studies and comparative literature department, was held in a maximum-security prison after being charged with insulting Cameroon’s army and inciting violence, following his criticism of the government’s handling of a separatist crisis in its Anglophone regions.
All charges were dropped Wednesday and he is scheduled to arrive in Washington, on Thursday morning, said his wife, Nyasha Bakare, who is in Zimbabwe with their 8-year-old daughter.
“We are VERY excited to be reunited and can’t wait!” Bakare said in an email Wednesday.
Nganang, who was born and raised in Cameroon and holds dual citizenship, had been detained since Dec. 6. He was taken into custody by authorities when he tried to board a plane headed to Zimbabwe to meet his wife, a day after his article criticizing Cameroon President Paul Biya was published in the Jeune Afrique magazine. That was a few days after a Facebook posting in which Nganang was seen by Cameroonian authorities as threatening Biya’s life.
His family and friends said Wednesday that a judge dismissed the government’s charges and ordered Nganang released. The charges were dropped under Article 64 of the country’s Criminal Procedure Code that provides for a full interruption of a trial if it is likely to “seriously imperil social interest or public order,” his supporters said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in a statement Wednesday that he looked forward to Nganang’s return home to his family and the Stony Brook University community.
“In the face of an increasingly oppressive government, Professor Nganang has worked tirelessly for a better future for his country and family,” Zeldin said.
Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said in a statement Wednesday that he was gratified to hear the news.
“As we await further details, we are grateful for all of the support and guidance from all those who were involved and look forward to welcoming Patrice back on campus,” he said.
Nganang’s release surprised his family and legal team because his court proceedings had been delayed until Jan. 19 to give prosecutors time to gather witnesses for a trial.
Nganang’s attorney, Emmanuel Simh, told Le Monde on Wednesday that his client’s Cameroonian passport had been confiscated without a court ruling. Simh said he thought the detainment and trial had been about vengeance.
Nganang’s plight has drawn international attention, with other academics, writers and activists signing petitions demanding the release of the author of as many as a dozen books.
Angela Quintal, the Africa Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said she thought international diplomatic pressure and efforts from supporters played an important role in securing Nganang’s release.
CPJ hopes Nganang’s release “is a sign that President Paul Biya’s administration has woken up to the fact that violating the right to freedom of expression to silence critical voices, including in the press, will not be condoned by freedom-loving Cameroonian citizens, or the international community,” she wrote.
Nganang wrote about English-speaking southwest and northwest regions of Cameroon that have been at odds with the government in a crisis that UN officials said had intensified in the past year.
People from the Anglophone areas have long said that they were victims of discrimination by their French-speaking counterparts, including Biya, and experts said French was exclusively taught in schools and used in official correspondence and residents from those areas were excluded from government jobs and power positions.
With Zachary R. Dowdy and Lisa Irizarry