Cameroonian editor charged with criminal libel

New York, March 22, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the prosecution of a journalist in Cameroon over coverage of a labor dispute at a transportation company. A public prosecutor in the commercial city of Douala charged Editor Jean-Marie Tchatchouang of the weekly Paroles with criminal defamation on February 4, the journalist told CPJ.

The charges are based on a complaint by Jean Ernest Ngallè Bibéhé, CEO of  Douala’s main bus company, Socatur, in response to Parole‘s coverage of widely reported allegations that Bibéhé and his wife, Lydienne (the company’s human resources manager), had embezzled public subsidies and employed abusive labor practices. Tchatchouang was prosecuted for his possessing and publishing letters from current and former personnel detailing the allegations, Tchatchounang said. The couple publicly dismissed the allegations, which surfaced in 2010, and were reported by Tchatchouang in the newspaper L’Anecdote, according to local journalists and news reports.

Tchatchouang said he cannot afford a lawyer, and a final verdict was expected on Wednesday, according to news reports.

“We call on the panel of magistrates hearing this case to dismiss the criminal charges against Jean-Marie Tchatchouang, as this prosecution appears to be an attempt to intimidate a journalist from reporting on alleged corruption,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We urge the government to amend the law to refer defamation matters to civil courts.”

In a February 9 story published by news website Camnews24, Bibéhé accused the journalist of attempting to blackmail him. Tchatchouang denied the accusation, saying that Bibéhé never replied to an interview questionnaire sent by the newspaper in January about the allegations, according to the same sources.

Police arrested Tchatchouang on February 3 and held him overnight before transferring him to a public prosecutor that charged and released him on a 1 million CFA francs bond (US$2,100), he told CPJ. Two other journalists, Ive Tsogue of Les Nouvelles du Pays, and weekly Le Pelican Editor-in-Chief Aristide Nguekam have been questioned in connection with the case, Nguekam told CPJ.