Cameroonian journalist Adalbert Hiol was arrested in November 2019 and in December was convicted of spreading false news, defamation, and insult in retaliation for reporting in the newspaper that he runs.
Hiol is the publisher of the privately owned Ades-Infos Jeunesse en Action newspaper based in Douala, a coastal city in southwest Cameroon, according to court documents and an individual with knowledge of the case who asked not to be identified.
He did not appear on CPJ’s 2019 prison census because CPJ was unaware of his case at the time.
On November 7, 2019, Hiol responded to a summons issued by authorities in Douala; when he appeared, he was charged with false news, defamation, and insult, and was sent to the city’s central prison without his lawyer present, according to that individual and a charge sheet reviewed by CPJ.
The charges stemmed from an April 2, 2019, defamation complaint, which CPJ reviewed, filed by Louis Richard Njock, the director of a regional hospital in Edea, a city south of Douala. The complaint referenced 2017 and 2018 articles in Ades-Infos Jeunesse en Action criticizing Njock’s management of the hospital.
Hiol’s lawyer requested a provisional release after the journalist was sent to prison, but that application was rejected, according to the person who spoke to CPJ and court filings, which CPJ reviewed.
On December 27, 2019, the Douala Bonanjo court of first instance found Hiol guilty of those charges and sentenced him to 18 months in prison and a fine of 2 million Central African francs ($3,381), according to the court documents reviewed by CPJ and Fénelon Mahop Sen, one of Hiol’s lawyers, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
Hiol was also ordered to pay Njock 10.5 million francs ($17,809) in damages and procedural costs, and his newspaper was barred from publishing for six months, according to those documents.
Hiol filed an appeal of the conviction on December 30, 2019, according to the court documents. In late September 2020, Mahop Sen told CPJ that the appeal was ongoing, but the process had been delayed due to COVID-19. At a hearing on November 24, the Coastal Court of Appeal denied Hiol’s appeal, according to another of his lawyers, Antoine Marie Binong, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app and said that he planned to file a further appeal to the Supreme Court
Hiol is detained in the Douala central prison and has recurring pain in his knee, for which he receives treatment at the nearby Adlucem hospital, according to the person familiar with his status. Hiol tested positive for COVID-19 in April, Mahop Sen told CPJ.
Communication Minister Rene Sadi, who is also a government spokesperson, did not respond to a text message from CPJ requesting comment in late September 2020. His adviser, Charles Manda, also did not respond to calls or texts via messaging app. An email to the government’s cabinet secretariat on September 24 was not acknowledged.