Cameroonian editor under arrest

New York, December 15, 2009—The managing editor of a private newspaper in Cameroon has been held in police custody since Thursday, accused of insulting President Paul Biya, according to local journalists and news reports. Managing Editor Jean-Bosco Talla, at left, of the weekly Germinal was picked up by police in the capital, Yaoundé, on Thursday and taken to the State Secretariat for Defense, headquarters of the military police, for questioning over a front-page item, according to the same sources. 

The item was an excerpt from a 2001 book published in Yaoundé by Daniel Ebalé Angounou, a former government informant, alleging that late President Ahmadou Ahidjo’s handover of power to Biya in 1982 was linked to sexual relations between the two. The item was part of a series of special reports on the 20th anniversary of Ahidjo’s death in exile, which was widely covered by the local press. 

Defense lawyer Jean-Marie Ngoua told CPJ that Talla could be formally charged under Cameroon’s criminal libel statutes this week.

“Jean-Bosco Talla should not be imprisoned for quoting a book,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We urge authorities in Cameroon to abandon the practice of using criminal insult laws to send journalists to prison.”

Germinal editor-in-chief Duke Atangana Etotogo told CPJ that police lured Talla with a phone call from a purported source who wanted to meet him. Talla, who has faced arrest and threats over his investigations into the private wealth of Biya and other dignitaries, is the second journalist now in custody for his work in Cameroon, according to CPJ research. The other is Lewis Medjo of the defunct tabloid La Détente Libre.