Cameroon journalist detained, asked to reveal sources

New York, September 9, 2011–Authorities in Cameroon have detained a journalist since Monday, pressing him to reveal the sources for a story detailing alleged corruption by a tax official, local journalists and news reports said.

Editor François Fogno Fotso of the private bimonthly Génération Libre was interrogated from Monday through Thursday without the presence of a lawyer and pressured to identify the sources for an August 2010 story by reporter Boris Nembot that raised questions about a series of financial transactions by then public tax collector Célestin Tabouli in the western city of Nkongsamba, according to news reports and local journalists. Officers have also pressed the editor to disclose the whereabouts of Nembot and say that a private businessman, identified only as “Rewe,” who was arrested nine days ago, was his source, local journalists said.

Fotso was taken to court today, but was not charged, and was returned to the custody of the military police in the capital, Yaoundé, where he was also questioned, local journalists told CPJ.

“It is outrageous that military police are questioning a journalist over his sources,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “François Fogno Fotso must be released immediately.”

In a story headlined “Embezzlement of funds at the Treasury of Nkongsamba,” Génération Libre claimed that it had received documents detailing a series of transfer of funds by Tabouli to his private accounts in amounts much larger than his salary as a government employee. The story challenged the tax collector to write a response to the allegations, but the latter filed a complaint instead. Military police have summoned Fotso at least four times since October 2010 over the article, but the editor has refused to comply with their demands.

Following Fotso’s arrest on Tuesday, Génération Libre submitted to the public prosecutor’s office documents that it says prove its allegations. Tabouli told CPJ today that he did not wish to comment on the allegations. Cameroonian Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told CPJ: “The government has nothing to do with this case.”

In a public statement, the Association of Patriot Journalists of Cameroon condemned what it called an “arbitrary arrest of a journalist who dared do his job,” according to news reports.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Boris Nembot’s name.