April 25, 2010
H.E. Paul Biya
President of the Republic of Cameroon
Via facsimile: (237) 22 20 33 06
Dear President Biya,
Following Thursday’s death of newspaper editor Germain S. Ngota Ngota, whose health deteriorated while he was incarcerated in Kondengui Prison in the capital, Yaoundé, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you to launch a public, thorough, and transparent inquiry into the circumstances of his death. We urge you to provide guarantees for the well-being of three other journalists held in Cameroonian prisons and address ongoing abuses—including allegations of state torture—against independent journalists who raise questions about the administration’s performance.
Ngota, editor of the private bimonthly Cameroon Express, died from “abandonment, improper care” and “failure to render assistance,” according to a prison death certificate that his family shared with journalists. Ngota, known by his nickname Bibi, suffered from high blood pressure and a hernia. Daily Le Jour quoted Ngota’s father as saying that his son’s medical conditions were diagnosed by a prison doctor identified as Dr. Ndi.
Ngota was arrested on February 25, along with editors Harrys Robert Mintya of Le Devoir and Serge Sabouang of La Nation, in connection with a criminal complaint from top presidential aide Laurent Esso in response to their investigation of corruption allegations involving Esso and the state oil company, National Hydrocarbons Company (SNH). The journalists were transferred to Kondengui prison in March under terms of pre-trial detention—which can lasts up to six months and can be extended twice, lawyer Jean-Marie Nouga told CPJ.
Three weeks before his arrest by police, Ngota was picked up by agents of the Cameroon intelligence agency (DGRE) while being treated for high blood pressure at Biyem-Assi district hospital in Yaoundé, Ngota’s father told Le Jour. He was held incommunicado without charge with Mintya, Sabouang and reporter Simon Hervé Nko’o of Bebela. The government has not publicly addressed Nko’o’s claims that security agents used psychological and physical torture to force the journalists to reveal their source for a document on which the allegations were based. Nko’o has since fled into hiding.
Your Excellency, we hold the government of Cameroon responsible for the well-being of the three newspaper editors currently held in state detention facilities, namely Mintya, Sabouang and Lewis Medjo of the defunct weekly La Détente Libre. Imprisoned since September 2008 at New Bell prison in the commercial city of Douala, Medjo’s health has deteriorated while in custody. He lost hearing in his right ear as a result of a severe ear infection while serving a three-year sentence over his coverage of a presidential decree, his brother Michée Medjo Gatheu told CPJ.
Accordingly, we exhort you to urgently take all the necessary steps to ensure that transparent investigations into Ngota’s death and allegations of torture against Nko’o are conducted, and that the results be made public. We ask you to hold to account all officials involved in abuses against their critics in the press and we urge you to initiate media reforms, particularly the decriminalization of press offenses, so that the press is able to raise questions about the management of public finances and cover the news without fear of reprisals.
Thank for your attention to these very important matters. We look forward to your response.