The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by the recent jailing of Jules Koum Koum, publication director of the private bimonthly Le Jeune Observateur, on criminal defamation charges. Two journalists are now imprisoned in Cameroon for their work.
On January 10, Koum was sentenced to six months in prison for allegedly defaming the CPA insurance company in an article published in February 2004. Local sources say the article was titled: "Are CPA and Satellite reliable insurance companies?" Koum has been imprisoned since the verdict in the New Bell jail in the southwestern port city of Douala.
Eric Wirkwa Tayu, publisher of the small private newspaper Nso Voice, which is based in the western town of Kumbo, has been languishing in prison since July 28, 2004, when he was convicted of defaming Kumbo's mayor, Donatus Njong Fonyuy, in articles alleging corruption.
Tayu was sentenced to five months in prison, in addition to a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (about US$893). When he was unable to pay the fine, his imprisonment was extended by five months.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we condemn the imprisonment of Koum and Tayu. Journalists should never be jailed for what they write. While we do not dispute the right of citizens to seek redress for alleged libel, it should be a civil, not criminal, matter.
We call on Your Excellency to do everything in your power to see that Jules Koum Koum and Eric Wirkwa Tayu are immediately released from prison, and that all criminal charges against them are dropped. We also urge your government to work toward decriminalizing all press offenses and to allow journalists in Cameroon to practice their profession freely, without fear of state censorship or reprisals.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.