The 8-year-old daughter of a U.S. literature professor held in Cameroon on allegations he threatened government officials has written to her father, saying his family is proud of him and not to worry if he misses Christmas or her birthday.
Patrice Nganang, a professor at New York’s Stony Brook University, faces a Jan. 19 hearing after being detained Dec. 7 while trying to leave his native country. Nganang, who has duel U.S. and Cameroonian citizenship, has been critical of President Paul Biya, in power since 1982.
“Everyone in our family is sad you are gone but happy that you’re doing the right thing,” said Nomsa Nganang, who will turn 9 on Jan. 29. “We’re counting on you daddy!”
Nganang’s wife, Nyasha Bakare, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday that she waited a few days to tell her daughter about her father’s plight, but realized she had to when it became clear he would not be immediately released. It was not immediately known if Nganang has seen the letter.
Bakare said supporters suspect he was detained after criticizing how the government has handled a secessionist movement in some English-speaking areas.
Charges against him include issuing a death threat; insulting constitutional bodies, specifically the military; and inciting violence in a Facebook post, according to supporters including the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Requests for comment sent to the Cameroon embassy in Washington, D.C., have not been returned.
Bakare, who has been married to Nganang for 17 years, said she was waiting for her husband to join her in Zimbabwe when he was detained by authorities at an airport in the capital, Yaounde.
“We were quite devastated by the news,” said Bakare, who lives with her husband and daughter in Hopewell, New Jersey. She said the family had been in Africa visiting relatives. “We were expecting him here at the airport to join us for Christmas.”
She said Nganang appeared in court in Yaounde on Dec. 15, but the proceeding was adjourned to Jan. 18, to allow prosecutors time to find witnesses. He is now being held at a maximum security prison, where supporters recently brought him a mattress to sleep on, according to his wife.
Bakare said she has only been able to speak with her husband once but says he is in good spirits.
“It’s obviously outrageous; he is not a violent man,” she said. “He has a long history of dissent against the Cameroonian government but has worked passionately to have a better future for his country and his family there.”
Lawyers, journalists, prominent authors, writers, human rights advocates and others have organized to call for his release.
“If the government of President Paul Biya thinks the world does not care about Patrice’s arrest, it is in for a surprise,” said Angela Quintal, Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The outpouring of support for Patrice has been heartening.”
Nganang, 37, has been teaching in the United States since 2000 and at Stony Brook University on eastern Long Island since 2007, according to colleague Robert Harvey. He is scheduled work as a professor at Princeton University next spring. He has published 12 books, scholarly essays, novels and books of poetry.
Spokesmen for Democratic U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey said they are aware of the situation.
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