New York, July 11, 2005—The editor-in-chief of the private weekly Le Front has been imprisoned since July 6. CPJ sources said a prosecutor ordered Joseph Bessala Ahanda jailed indefinitely, pending the results of a judicial investigation into defamation allegations against him.
The case stems from a series of reports in Le Front alleging that the former director of the Cameroon Postal Services and the publication director of a private newspaper collaborated in embezzling state funds, local sources said.
Peter William Mandio, Le Front‘s publication director, said Ahanda is being held at the Kodengui Prison in the capital, Yaoundé. It is unclear whether Ahanda will face trial, and he could be detained indefinitely while the investigation is taking place, Mandio told CPJ.
Le Front is based in the southern commercial city of Douala, but is distributed throughout the country.
“We are disturbed that Cameroonian authorities have seen fit to imprison a journalist for his work,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Joseph Bessala Ahanda should be released immediately and unconditionally. “
Criminal defamation laws have been used frequently against journalists in Cameroon, according to CPJ research. In January 2005, Jules Koum Koum of the private weekly Le Jeune Observateur was sentenced to six months in jail for alleged defamation; the journalist was granted a provisional release in February. In March 2005, Eric Wirkwa Tayu, a journalist based in the western town of Kumbo, was released after serving eight months in jail for defamation.