In Cameroon, pattern of press freedom abuses

July 13, 2009

H.E. Paul Biya President of the Republic of Cameroon
c/o The Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon to the United States
2349 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Dear President Biya,

We are very concerned about an ongoing pattern of abuses against press freedom in Cameroon. In particular, we are alarmed by recent death threats against an editor, the recent prosecution of two others by a military tribunal, and the lengthy imprisonments of another two on libel charges. We call on you to use your influence to end practices that are undermining the free flow of information.

Jean Bosco Talla, editor of the private weekly Germinal in the capital, Yaoundé, has reported receiving anonymous threats since June 27, including a July 2 text message with chilling references to the slain Burkinabé editor Norbert Zongo and the missing French-Canadian reporter Guy-André Kieffer. The threats cited the paper’s decision to republish, on June 24, a report by the Catholic Committee Against Hunger and for Development, which raised questions about your private wealth, according to local journalists. The report included numerous footnote references to an August 2008 investigative report in Germinal that detailed your assets.

On June 3, a Yaoundé military court sentenced two journalists to five years in prison and fined them 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,000). The verdict stemmed from a complaint filed by former Defense Minister Rémy Zé Meka over articles that were critical of his performance in office. We are particularly alarmed by reports that the defendants, Editor Jacques Blaise Mvié and Editor-in-Chief Charles René Nwé of private weekly La Nouvelle, were not notified of the charges and, thus, were not present at their own trial. CPJ obtained a copy of the verdict–issued by a panel of judges headed by Col. Jean Legrand Mvondo Akoutou–that convicted the journalists by default of “complicity of insult” and “breaching national defense secrecy.” The journalists are free pending appeal, according to defense lawyer Paulain Marie Ndong.

Two other newspaper editors have been jailed since September 2008 on criminal libel charges. One is reported to be ill.

A doctor at Douala‘s Laquintinie Hospital has diagnosed Lewis Medjo, editor of the weekly La Détente Libre, who is detained at the city’s New Bell Prison, with a severe ear infection, local journalists told CPJ. Medjo is awaiting an appeal on a three-year prison sentence handed down in January in connection with a column about a presidential decree on the terms of senior judges, according to CPJ research. He has also suffered heart trouble during his detention, according to local journalists.

Michel Mombio, editor of the bimonthly L’Ouest Républicain, is awaiting trial on libel charges stemming from a story critical of Scientific Research Minister Madeleine Tchuinté. Mombio is held at Yaoundé’s Nkondengui central prison.

We call on you to ensure that authorities fully and promptly investigate the politically motivated threats against Jean Bosco Talla; halt legal harassment against Jacques Blaise Mvié and Charles René Nwé and afford them due process; provide proper medical attention to Lewis Medjo; and provide timely due process to Michel Mombio. We further ask that your government bring defamation laws in line with international standards by eliminating criminal penalties. We believe that journalists should not be imprisoned for their work and that defamation is a civil, not criminal, matter.

Thank for your attention to these very important matters.

Joel Simon
Executive Director