Cameroon authorities on Thursday filed new charges against a Stony Brook University professor who has been detained in the country for a week and transferred him to a maximum-security prison, his supporters said.
Patrice Nganang, a professor in the university’s cultural studies and comparative literature department, faces new charges of insulting Cameroon’s army and inciting violence, said a colleague at the university, Professor Robert Harvey.
Nganang also faces a previous charge of issuing a death threat against Cameroon’s longtime president, Paul Biya.
“Our concern is intensifying,” said Harvey, who teaches in the same department as Nganang and remains in close contact with the outspoken author’s wife, Nyasha Bakare. “This is not a good move that he’s been put into a maximum-security prison. . . . It’s extremely worrisome and people are down about the recent turn of events.”
The new charges come after a prosecutor on Monday dismissed a charge of insulting the president, momentarily buoying the hopes of those who have sought his release.
“We are shocked by these new charges against a writer who has a long history of peaceful activism,” Nganang’s support group wrote in a news release.
Nganang’s plight has drawn international attention with writers, academics and activists signing letters demanding the release of the author of as many as 12 books.
His legal troubles began on Dec. 6 when he was taken into custody at an airport in the coastal Cameroon city of Douala as he tried to leave the country and join Bakare, who was waiting for him in Zimbabwe.
The detention and now the transfer to maximum security prison in Yaoundé, the nation’s capital, came a day after a journal, Jeune Afrique, published an essay in which Nganang criticized Biya’s handling of a yearlong crisis in the Anglophone areas of Cameroon’s southwest and northwest regions.
The conflict has so devolved that many in the English speaking populations have sought a break from the French-speaking population.
It has featured spans of deadly violence as the government cracked down on dissent and refugees fled into Nigeria.
Nganang suggested in his essay that the turmoil might only be solved by a change in leadership. Such a proposal was seen as apparent jab at Biya, who has been in power for 35 years.
Nganang had also posted on Facebook what legal authorities in Cameroon viewed as a death threat against Biya.
In a report on Central Africa to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, a UN envoy, Francois Lounceny Fall, advised Cameroon’s officials to observe international law as it manages dissent even as he acknowledged that efforts by the government to resolve the demands of the Anglophone areas have fallen short of satisfying the population.
“While the government took a number of measures to address these grievances, including reforms in judicial and education sectors and the release of a number of English-speaking leaders detained in connection with the crisis,” Fall said, “there have been calls for a more fundamental dialogue on the issue of the system of government to overcome the marginalization that is felt by much of the population there.”