New York, June 13, 2013–A Cameroonian appellate court should overturn on appeal a criminal defamation conviction and sentence handed to a journalist on June 5 in the commercial city of Douala, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police jailed Charles Fils Elangue, head of the culture desk at private broadcaster ABK TV, in New Bell prison immediately after a court tribunal handed him a 12-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,010), according to Elangue and local news reports. Elangue was also ordered to pay 2 million CFA francs (US$4,000) in damages to Lisa Anye, the plaintiff and wife of local musician Francis Victor Njoh, better known as Njohreur, according to the same sources.
Elangue told CPJ he was released on June 11 after he paid the fine, and his lawyer, Henry Gomsuh, said he had appealed the conviction.
The conviction stemmed from a complaint filed by Anye against Elangue in connection with an article he had published in May 2011 while he was a reporter for the now-defunct news website Kaï Walaï, local journalists said. The article had reported Anye’s arrest in connection with a legal dispute involving the sale of a car, Elangue told CPJ. Anye denied that she had been arrested, according to news reports. The journalist told CPJ he had evidence, including a video of the arrest, to support his story.
“People who feel they have been defamed obviously have the right to seek redress through civil courts, but defamation should not be a criminal matter,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on the appeals court to reverse the conviction of Charles Fils Elangue and urge Cameroonian authorities to decriminalize defamation.”
Another Cameroonian journalist, Jean-Marie Tchatchouang, editor of the weekly Paroles, was released from prison on May 24 after completing a two-month term handed to him in March. The journalist was convicted of criminal defamation in connection with his coverage of allegations and mismanagement of funds at a local bus company.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The text of this alert has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Elangue’s lawyer, Henry Gomsuh.