The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed that Rémy Ngono, a former journalist for the private, Yaoundé-based Radio Télévision Siantou (RTS), has been imprisoned on charges of criminal defamation.
Ngono hosted "Kondré Chaud," a satirical program on RTS, until last fall, when he was fired after the station had received numerous listener complaints accusing him of defamation and unprofessionalism, according to local sources.
Ngono was charged with criminal defamation last summer after he made comments during a July 2002 broadcast of his show about accusations of embezzlement against a local businessman named Ketch Jean. The dates of Ngono's trial and conviction are unclear. Local sources told CPJ that he was convicted in absentia and was not immediately arrested. Agence France-Presse reported that Ngono was also fined 200,000 CFA francs (US$360).
Local sources told CPJ that police arrested the journalist on August 5 when he went to gendarmerie headquarters in the capital, Yaoundé, to file a complaint against a technician who broke his television while trying to fix it. Ngono was driven to Kondengui central prison to serve out his sentence.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we condemn Ngono's incarceration. While we do not dispute the right of Ketch Jean or any other Cameroonian citizen to seek redress for alleged libel, this should be a civil, not a criminal, matter. Criminal penalties for speech-related offenses are disproportionate; such penalties chill the work of the press, inhibit the free flow of information and ideas, and therefore undermine Cameroonian democracy.
We call on you to do everything in your power to see that Rémy Ngono is immediately released, and that the matter is resolved through civil means. We also urge you to work toward repealing all criminal statutes applying to press offenses, and to thus ensure that Cameroonian journalists can practice their profession freely, without fear of criminal punishment.
Ann K. Cooper