AUGUST 17, 2005
Posted: September 15, 2005
Guibaï Gatama, L’Oeil du Sahel
A court in Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far North Province, sentenced L’Oeil du Sahel publication director Guibaï Gatama in absentia to pay damages of 5 million CFA francs (U.S. $ 9,275) to the head of military security in the province and the same sum to a local high school superintendent. Gatama was also fined 2 million CFA francs (U.S. $3,700).
Both men were named in an article in October 2003, which alleged that the security chief had beaten up the superintendent for making his son do manual labor with the other students. According to Gatama, it was the military chief, René Dinama who brought the defamation case against the newspaper. Gatama stands by the story.
Local journalists told CPJ that the verdict was the latest instance of harassment targeting L’Oeil du Sahel, one of the only independent publications to cover Cameroon’s isolated northern region. Army officers had brought at least twelve court cases against the newspaper since the beginning of the year, threatening its financial survival, according to Gatama. The newspaper frequently reports abuses of power by security forces in the area, and its journalists are often threatened by local officials and soldiers, CPJ sources say.
In April, Gatama and a reporter were both sentenced to five months in jail and a hefty fine for an article criticizing a local military police brigade. According to Gatama, both the April and August court hearings were conducted without the knowledge of L’Oeil du Sahel management, and no journalists from the newspaper were present at either.