The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the imprisonment of Eric Wirkwa Tayu, publisher of the small private newspaper Nso Voice, which is based in the western town of Kumbo. According to local sources, Tayu has been in prison in Kumbo since July 28, when he was convicted of defaming Kumbo’s mayor, Donatus Njong Fonyuy.
According to local sources, the defamation charge, which dates from May 4, stemmed from articles published in Nso Voice alleging that Fonyuy was guilty of corruption. Because the town is so remote, CPJ was only recently able to confirm the details of this case. Tayu was sentenced to five months in prison, in addition to a fine of 300,000 CFA francs (about US$590) in damages. Tayu could face additional prison time if he is unable to pay the fine, local sources said.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we condemn Tayu’s incarceration. While we do not dispute the right of citizens to seek redress for alleged libel, it should be a civil, not a criminal, matter. Criminal penalties for speech-related offenses have a chilling effect on press freedom, inhibit the free flow of information and ideas, and therefore undermine Cameroon’s democracy.
We call on you to do everything in your power to see that Eric Wirkwa Tayu is immediately released, and that this matter is resolved through civil means. We also urge you to work toward repealing all criminal statutes for press offenses, and to ensure that Cameroonian journalists can practice their profession freely, without fear of criminal punishment.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.