May 6, 2010
Dear President Biya,
We are alarmed by investigations that appear to be flawed and marred with political interference into the April 22 death in prison of journalist Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota. We hold Cameroon’s government responsible for Ngota’s death and the well-being of three other journalists in the custody of the administration. We call on you to address these concerns, along with allegations of torture of journalists by a security agency accountable to your office.
Mr. President, we were heartened by an April 26 statement issued from your office stating that “with a concern of objectivity and impartiality, the President of the Republic has wanted to assign this case to a body independent of the Executive and its parties, namely the judicial power, in view of the establishment of the truth.”
However, the same statement asserted that Ngota’s case was “not a matter of restriction of freedom of the press but of submission of every citizen to the rule of law.” In fact, agents of the Cameroon intelligence agency DGRE first arrested Ngota–while he was receiving home medical care for high blood pressure–with three other journalists investigating a document that implicated presidential adviser Laurent Esso in corruption. The administration has not addressed allegations that DGRE agents used psychological and physical torture to force the journalists to reveal sources for the document.
The president’s statement further asserted that Ngota died only of poor health and not because of poor medical care at Nkondengui prison. However, in an interview with weekly La Météo, Ngota’s mother, Georgette Edima Ngoulou, said her son had complained of being trampled while sleeping on the floor of his cell and of exposure to rainwater. She said the prison warden “categorically rejected” a written plea for his medical evacuation, which his mother said had been endorsed by the prison doctor.
We are troubled that on April 28, the minister publicly disclosed that Ngota had been tested positive for HIV and died from infections arising from this condition–a claim refuted by Ngota’s widow. Local anti-AIDS activists and Cameroon’s national medical association have condemned the public disclosure of Ngota’s HIV status, raising concerns of violation of privacy and medical confidentiality rights enshrined in Cameroonian laws and the U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS. The minister’s statement was based on an autopsy he said would be held “in the presence of independent personalities” and Ngota’s family, according to Agence France-Presse. However, Ngota’s younger brother, Bruno Ntede, and Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola, a local journalist who was invited by the minister to represent the independent press at the autopsy, said they were not present, according to press reports.
Mr. President, you tasked Cameroon’s judiciary with independently investigating this matter. Yet, we are troubled that the integrity of the probe may have already been compromised by a series of assertions from the administration that are at odds with claims made by family and friends of Ngota. In the interest of transparency and safeguarding the integrity of any judicial investigations, we call on your leadership to address these concerns, including allegations that DGRE intelligence agents used physical and psychological torture to force four journalists to reveal sources of the document at the basis of their arrests. We finally ask that you release all journalists held in Cameroonian prisons.
Thank for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your response.