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U.S. writer is detained in Cameroon, meets with lawyer

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 8, 2017

In this undated photo provided by Stony Brook University, Professor Patrice Nganang is shown. (Associated Press)
In this undated photo provided by Stony Brook University, Professor Patrice Nganang is shown. (Associated Press)
By Frank Eltman Associated Press

A literature professor who was detained in the Central African nation of Cameroon after writing an article critical of the government is in good spirits and has met with a lawyer, according to a colleague at New York’s Stony Brook University.

Patrice Nganang, who teaches at Stony Brook University’s cultural studies and comparative literature department in New York, was detained Thursday as he tried to leave Cameroon after criticizing the government, according to the advocacy group PEN America.

“Detaining an important independent voice like Patrice Nganang, who has used his writing to investigate the consequences of violence, is indicative of a movement by the government to silence all political criticism and dismantle the right to free expression,” said PEN America’s Karin Deutsch Karlekar.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment sent to the Cameroon embassy in Washington.

Robert Harvey, who hired Nganang at Stony Brook a decade ago, said he has communicated with his friend’s wife, Nyasha, who is in Zimbabwe and was awaiting her husband’s return to that country when he was detained. He said she has been told that he met with a lawyer Friday, but the reasons for his detention were not immediately known.

Nganang had written an article for Jeune Afrique that was critical of how Cameroon has handled a sometimes violent secessionist movement in some English-speaking areas. President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, has criticized what he calls secessionists among the country’s English-speaking minority, which has complained about discrimination.

Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said university officials “are working around the clock with the appropriate authorities and elected U.S. representatives to help facilitate the safe return of Professor Nganang.”

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antsnio Guterres, said at a briefing Thursday that he hoped Nganang is safe but did not say whether the UN was aware of the detention or whether it would intervene.

“Obviously everyone who is in Cameroon or traveling to Cameroon, if there are any problems that occur during their travels, that needs to be investigated thoroughly by the local authorities,” said Farhan Haq. “We certainly hope and expect that this particular person will be found, and we’re hopeful that nothing untoward has happened.”

Haq had no additional comment when reached Friday.

Harvey, the former chairman of the cultural studies and comparative literature department at Stony Brook, called his colleague “a very inspiring teacher. He is very engaged politically, especially in his home country.”

Nganang, who has a home in New Jersey, has been teaching in the United States since 2000. He has published 12 books, scholarly essays, novels and books of poetry.

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