New York, April 10, 2007—Prosecutors in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé, today lodged criminal charges against the director of a private tabloid who has been detained by police since Saturday in connection with a story about an alleged sex scandal, according to local sources and press freedom group Journaliste En Danger.
Georges Gilbert Baongla of the weekly Le Dementi, was charged with publication of obscene materials, public contempt of morals, and contempt of decency under Cameroon’s criminal code, defense lawyer Joseph Kenmoé told CPJ. The charges carry a prison term of up to two years and a fine of up to 2 million CFA francs (US$4,000), he said. Baongla was taken to Kondenguy Central Prison pending trial on Wednesday.
“The use of criminal laws in this matter endangers press freedom in Cameroon,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists should not be imprisoned for their work, and we urge the prosecution to drop all charges against Georges Gilbert Baongla.”
The charges stemmed from a March 27 story trumpeting an alleged “homosexual scandal” involving an unidentified government minister, according to local journalists. Homosexuality is against the law in Cameroon, and reporting on the topic is considered very sensitive, according to JED and local journalists. In 2006, a series of criminal prosecutions were filed against newspaper directors who published lists of supposed “secret homosexuals,” according to CPJ research.
Baongla was arrested at his residence on Saturday by plainclothes police who served a summons from the state prosecutor, according to Kenmoé. He was held in a police station and pressed to reveal his sources, he said.
It is not the first time Baongla has been imprisoned for his work. He was imprisoned in 2001 and 2002 in connection with a story alleging a governmental corruption scandal, according to CPJ research.