“I should have been in Australia now, to then leave for South Africa on Saturday,” Mimi Mefo says, as a pre-recorded video replaced her keynote speech to the Integrity 20 conference at Griffith University in Brisbane.
Her speech, based in large part on her experiences reporting on the current conflict in Cameroon as an English-speaking journalist, was titled “Without Fear or Favor.”
Mefo was not able to travel to Australia after her visa application was rejected twice. She says her second rejection letter from Australia’s Interior Ministry said she “did not satisfy the provisions of the migration regulations of 1994.”
Mefo recently moved to Germany, conducting an internship with DW and then signing a freelance contract.
“There’s no way I would leave my job at Deutsche Welle, which is my employer, which did everything possible for me to stay here. And then I’d go and stay in Australia?” Mefo said. “There’s no need for me to do that — to leave my good job here. I’m so comfortable here in Germany, I’ve been so well received, also by the authorities here. Why would I then go and stay in Australia illegally?”
Mefo said she believes her connecting flight for a separate engagement in South Africa, filed as part of the visa request, should have served as further evidence: “I wasn’t going there for leisure, not for a picnic! I had a connecting flight and all of these documents were given to Australian authorities.”
‘Any journalist in Cameroon is now at risk’
Mefo made international headlines in December 2018 when she was arrested and jailed by authorities in Cameroon for four days, accused of spreading terrorist propaganda.
“I was jailed as a reporter. Any journalist in Cameroon now is at risk, especially if you are focused on reporting objectively about the crisis in the English-speaking community,” Mefo says. “The report was related to the conflict because an American missionary was killed in one of these restive regions, and I reported about how he was killed by the military. I was released a few days later after a lot of mobilization in Cameroon and also outside the country.”
A two-year armed campaign for independence in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions has led to a military crackdown costing almost 3,000 lives
Read more: Who are Cameroon’s self-named Ambazonia secessionists?
Mefo has since left Cameroon and visited a series of Western countries — the US, the UK, Norway and France — before seeking and obtaining residency in Germany. Had she needed to seek asylum, she says, she would have tried one of these countries first.
On learning of the news earlier in the week, she called the decision “insane” and concluded, “I guess there are many ways to attempt silencing journalists.”
Asked what motive Australia might have to muzzle an Anglophone journalist from Cameroon, Mefo agreed that it was not immediately obvious.
“This should be a lesson to Australian authorities that when you receive visa applications from African journalists, you have to thoroughly go through the file. There should be no reason that Australia is denying me a visa,” she says.
Mefo says her application included details of her address in Germany, and copies of her work contract and her connecting flight to South Africa. She did submit her Cameroonian bank account data, as she had not established one in Germany at the time of the application.
Read more: Australia’s newspapers go dark to protest censorship
Press freedom has been a sensitive issue in Australia in recent weeks and months, both as a result of recent legislation restricting press freedoms and extremely high profile legal cases involving a cleric which were subject to an injunction restricting reporting on the subject.
Australia’s front pages earlier in the week were symbolically blacked out to protest new regulations
Mefo will travel to South Africa as scheduled to speak at an investigative journalism conference on Saturday, albeit setting off from Germany instead.
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