UNITED NATIONS — Stony Brook University Professor Patrice Nganang, who has been detained in Cameroon for a week, has been transferred to another facility and is scheduled to appear before a new prosecutor Thursday, his supporters said in a news release.
The development comes two days after legal authorities dropped a charge that Nganang, 47, had insulted Cameroon’s president Paul Biya with writings published and posted just before he was arrested on Dec. 6 while boarding a flight from Cameroon to meet his wife in Zimbabwe.
On Wednesday, a UN envoy to Central Africa told the Security Council that the crisis that sparked Nganang’s writing — the unrest in the country’s English-speaking areas — was “of particular concern” as observers note that government efforts have not eased minority residents’ sense of marginalization.
Supporters said Nganang remains charged with issuing a death threat against Biya.
Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon visited him for the first time Monday and reported that he was in good spirits then, supporters said.
A State Department official contacted Monday by Newsday confirmed that the agency was aware of Nganang’s plight, but would not comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.
Nganang, an outspoken cultural studies and comparative literature professor, was arrested while boarding a plane on Dec. 6 in Cameroon.
Fellow SBU Professor Robert Harvey said he was in touch with Nganang’s wife, Nyasha Bakare, who was waiting for her husband in Harare, Zimbabwe when Nganang was arrested.
Nganang was taken to the General Delegation National Security detention center in the capital city, Yaoundé, a day after he published an essay on Dec. 5 on the Jeune Afrique weekly news website.
The essay suggested the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions might only be solved by a change in leadership. The government also alleges Nganang threatened to kill Biya, who has been in power since 1982, the professor’s attorney said in a Facebook post.
On Wednesday, a prosecutor transferred Nganang’s case to another proescutor in another court, who would address the matter on Thursday, Nganang’s supporters said.
The insult charge was dropped on Monday.
His attorney, Emmanuel Simh, had argued that Nganang, who neither owns firearms nor works with armed groups, did not pose a threat to Biya, adding that Nganang has a “long history of peaceful activism promoting democracy,” according to a news release.
Bakare told friends Monday that the dropped charge “was a big relief,” and supporters urged more people to weigh in to secure Nganang’s release.
By Wednesday, an open letter generated at Princeton University, written to “condemn in the strongest possible terms the illegal detention of our colleague and friend, the esteemed Cameroonian-American scholar and writer Professor Patrice Nganang,” had garnered more than 600 signatures from academics and activists worldwide. It also contained signatures of more than 100 SBU professors, including Harvey, and students.
A change.org petition, written in French, also has nearly 5,000 signatures.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world body hopes Cameroon adheres to relevant internationla laws in detaining suspects without explicitly mentioning Nganang’s plight.
“We call on national authorities to follow due process when dealing with all detainees and to abide by international human rights conventions to which Cameroon is a party,” read the statement issued by Farhan Haq.
“We have consistently affirmed that the best way to address the situation in the Anglophone regions is through a genuine and inclusive dialogue with all relevant stakeholders,” it continued. “We reiterate our readiness to assist national appeasement efforts in the search for a lasting peaceful solution to the crisis.”
In October, Guterres condemned an outbreak of violence in the English-speaking minority areas in northwestern and southwestern Cameroon and urged all sides to show restraint.
The unrest in Cameroon has caused waves of deadly violence over the past year, and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed into neighboring Nigeria amid the government’s crackdowns on strikes and demonstrations.
With Christine Chung