Amadou Vamoulké

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Amadou Vamoulké, former managing director of the state-owned Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV), is currently the journalist jailed for the longest period in Cameroon. He was arrested in 2016 for alleged embezzlement and appeared in court more than 140 times before being sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2022. Individuals close to Vamoulké said that his journalistic integrity and independence as head of CRTV led to his detention. As of late 2023, 73-year-old Vamoulké was in ill health and being held in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in the capital, Yaoundé. He has appealed to the Supreme Court but no hearing date has been set. 

On July 29, 2016, Vamoulké was arrested after facing interrogation by a Special Criminal Court and detained in Kondengui Central Prison, according to media reports and one of his lawyers, Alice Nkom.

In 2017, Vamoulké’s trial for the misappropriation of public funds while director of CRTV began, according to news reports

In 2018, a second embezzlement indictment was added to Vamoulké’s case, which implicated at least eight other individuals, according to and a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisals. The government said that a CRTV audit found irregular cash payments, unjustified transfers of money abroad, and unwarranted payments to certain staff.

Vamoulké’s lawyer Nkom said that the journalist’s detention was in retaliation for his independent-minded management of CRTV, which he headed from 2005 until June 2016. He was removed from the post the month prior to his arrest.

"The official reason for his arrest is a pretext for trying to silence journalists in Cameroon … Amadou never accepted as black what he knew was white," Nkom said.

Vamoulké had principled journalistic standards, the same person familiar with the case told CPJ. He was reputed for "high levels of professionalism … in spite of directives from the government and state apparatus … in some cases, he contravened the directives," that person said, adding that Vamoulké would not be in detention were it not for his ethics.

In 2017, the International Union of Francophone Press said on Facebook that many people attested to Vamoulké’s integrity and called his detention "a relentless attempt to demonstrate guilt despite the absence of facts justifying such an accusation."

In a 2020 opinion, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Vamoulké’s immediate release and an assurance that he would receive medical treatment as he was in severe pain and risked losing the use of his legs. The U.N. said that the government had “not established a legal basis” for Vamoulké’s pre-trial detention. In response, the government said that Vamoulké’s detention was consistent with “relevant legal provisions.” 

The U.N. Working Group’s findings cited a source who said that CRTV had begun to cover sensitive news, such as counter-terrorism activities in northern Cameroon, under Vamoulké’s leadership, and that it became a public service outlet, rather than simply relaying government messages. However, the U.N. said in its findings that it was “not convinced that the manner in which Mr Vamoulké expressed himself or practiced his profession at CRTV led directly to his detention.” 

On December 20, 2022, a Special Criminal Court in Yaoundé sentenced Vamoulké to 12 years in prison and 47 million Central African CFA francs (US$76,000) in fines. Vamoulké’s sentence takes into account the six years spent in custody, news reports said. 

Vamoulké’s appeal before the Supreme Court, according to media reports.

In April 2023, a lawyer for Vamouklé filed a habeas corpus petition, which called for the journalist’s release based on the U.N. Working Group’s findings, but it was rejected in June and the appeal is ongoing, according to media reports.

Nkom told CPJ that Vamoulké appeared in court 140 times prior to sentencing and that he had been diagnosed with asthma, glaucoma, and neuropathy, a nerve disorder, while in prison. As of late 2023, he remained in poor health, according to a second person familiar with the case.

CPJ’s requests for comment via a letter to the Cameroonian embassy in Washington, D.C., did not receive any response. 

Denis Omgba Bomba, head of the communication ministry’s National Media Observatory told CPJ that Vamoulké was charged with common law offences, which fell within the remit of the Ministry of Justice, and that legal proceedings had to be settled by the courts before any mediation by the Ministry of Communication.

CPJ’s calls to the Ministry of Justice did not receive a reply