A Cameroonian journalist and press freedom activist has been denied a visa to speak in Australia.
Mimi Mefo Takambou was invited to speak to the Integrity 20 conference at Griffith University, Brisbane, on Friday 25 October. She was to give a keynote titled Without Fear or Favour and then participate in a panel discussion about press freedom with Kerry O'Brien, head of the UK-based NGO Index on Censorship Jodie Ginsberg, and Associate Professor of journalism Matthew Condon.
Mefo applied for a visa at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. She is currently working at the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle in Bonn.
"I applied for the first visa myself and it was refused," she said. "Integrity 20 organisers then decided to enlist the help of an immigration professional to submit the second application on my behalf."
The second application was also refused. Mefo said that the refusal was on the grounds that she hadn't demonstrated that she would leave Australia after the conference, even though she is scheduled to present at the African Investigative Journalism Conference only a few days later. Her flight from Brisbane and visa to enter South Africa have already been obtained.
"I am to present the Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture in South Africa from the 28th October. As such, I would have compulsorily left Australia on the 26th to get there on time."
“Australia prides itself on its democratic values, including freedom of expression,” Ginsberg said in a statement. “This means it needs to support and champion those being denied the right to speak in their own countries. Denying visas to journalists who have faced oppression and censorship in their own countries simply emboldens the oppressor.”
“It is frankly insulting and belittling to suggest Mimi Mefo would use the opportunity of this keynote to seek asylum in Australia.”
Mimi Mefo Takambou is an award-winning journalist who reports through her online publication Mimi Mefo Info. She won the 2019 Freedom of Expression Award from Index on Censorship and was the writer-in-residence at English PEN in 2019.
For her reporting on unrest in the western Anglophone regions of Cameroon she has faced threats of violence, and reprisals from authorities. In November 2018 she was arrested and charged with "publishing and propagating information that infringes on the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cameroon". She was released after four days and local and international pressure.
Update, 19 February 2020.
Integrity 20 posted a video of the panel discussion in which Takambou was to participate. The other panellists left an empty chair to represent her absence.
O'Malley N. 'You could not make this up': journalist barred from Australian free speech conference. Sydney Morning Herald. 24 October 2019.
Parnell S. Right to Know: government fears 'free and open media', says veteran journalist Kerry O'Brien. The Australian. 25 October 2019.