Charles Atangana is a journalist from the Cameroon. When he lived there, he wrote an article critical of the Government, and was arrested, tortured and eventually managed to bribe his way out of the country, seeking asylum in Glasgow. His life has been threatened, as have his family, by a regime in whose custody newspaper editor Germain S. Ngota Ngota died as recently as April. But the UK has denied him asylum after six years in which he has been an active member of the NUJ and a volunteer at the local Citizens Advice Bureau (because, of course, our insane asylum laws prevent him working legally). His forced removal is currently under suspension as a result of legal action by the NUJ, and the ball is now in the court of Home Secretary Theresa May. Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, has written on Comment is Free today about his case, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber wrote to the Home Secretary ten days ago just before his case was suspended, and as a precaution, has also written to the British High Commissioner in Cameroon asking him to look out for Charles’ safety if he is deported.
But apart from sheer human sympathy for Charles, why should union members take action to defend him?
Well, an injury to one is an injury to all, and the more people like Charles we can help, the stronger we will be – unions need to win things for people to want to join us. But there is more, and it’s central to why the TUC works so closely with the NUJ and Amnesty International on campaigns for freedom of expression in countries like Cameroon (and, recently, the Gambia), and why we are working with the NUJ to support the Federation of African Journalists’ latest campaign for press freedom in Africa. Freedom of expression is fundamental to the freedom to organise, to oppose what is wrong, to argue for what is right. It is impossible to fight corruption, exploitation or harassment without the freedom to speak out. So unions cannot operate freely without freedom of expression – as well as our other fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of association and the freedom to bargain collectively.
To build stronger unions, people like Charles Atangana need to be able to speak freely, and if he can’t do that in the Cameroon, he needs to be able to flee to somewhere else.