New York, April 5, 2000 — On April 3, a criminal court in the western Cameroonian town of Bafoussam convicted Michel Eclador Pekoua on one count of defamation and sentenced him to six months in prison without parole, sources in Cameroon told CPJ. Pekoua is the publisher of the private weekly Ouest Echos.
The verdict came six months after a state-owned oil company, Société Nationale des Hydrocarbures (SNH), accused Pekoua of defaming two company officials in an August 1999 Ouest Echos editorial. Quoting a leaked SNH internal document, Pekoua alleged that SNH executive director Adolphe Moduki had embezzled large sums out of the company’s budget, and had spent much of the stolen money on gifts for his lover, Tenda Ekoka, an executive secretary at SNH.
Moduki did not personally file suit against Pekoua (according to CPJ’s sources, he was reluctant to do so for fear that an investigation would reveal that he had in fact embezzled money). With support from SHN, Ekoka filed suit against the journalist, arguing that she had been defamed when he described the details of her alleged affair.
After the verdict, police handcuffed Pekoua and drove him to a Bafoussam penitentiary where he remains in detention, CPJ’s sources say.