New York, April 15, 2014–Authorities in Cameroon should release a newspaper editor who has been imprisoned since March 29 after being convicted of criminal defamation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On Friday, a judge postponed indefinitely a bail hearing for Amungwa Tanyi Nicodemus, according to news reports.
On March 10, a court in the northwestern city of Bamenda sentenced Nicodemus, publisher and editor of the private weekly The Monitor, to four months in prison and ordered him to pay 10 million CFA francs in damages (US$21,000), his defense lawyer, Yijofmen Kol, told CPJ. The journalist was not at the trial, news reports said. He is being held at a prison in Bamenda.
Kol told CPJ he has appealed the conviction and that a hearing is scheduled for April 28.
The charges were based on a complaint filed by the Cameroon Co-operative Credit Union League (CAMCCUL), an umbrella body of cooperative credit unions, over a series of articles published in The Monitor. The articles alleged, among other things, that the microfinance institution had used and distributed unlicensed software, embezzled funds, and engaged in bribery, according to a copy of the judgment which CPJ obtained. CAMCCUL denied the allegations.
The court also accused Nicodemus of failing to respond to a summons that had allegedly been served to him on December 16, according to the judgment. Kol told CPJ the journalist never received any notice of proceedings against him. The court issued an arrest warrant for Nicodemus after the verdict was announced, and he was picked up by police in the capital, Yaoundé, before being taken to Bamenda, according to Kol.
The African Union’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information has called for the repeal of criminal defamation laws on the continent.
“Defamation complaints against the press should be settled before civil court. Journalists are too often sent to prison in order to suppress allegations of corruption,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on authorities in Bamenda to release Amungwa Tanyi Nicodemus pending his appeal.”