Newspaper publisher held for past week on charge of insulting president

Published on 17 December 2009

Reporters Without Borders correspondent Jules Koum Koum managed to visit newspaper publisher Jean-Bosco Talla in Yaoundé’s Kondengui prison today. Arrested a week ago, Talla was brought before a court in Mfoundi yesterday and pleaded not guilty to a charge of insulting President Paul Biya.

“I just published passages from a book,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “I don’t see what crime I committed and I am therefore not worried.” Talla is due to appear in court again on 21 December.

“We once again remind the Cameroonian authorities that there are never grounds for arresting a journalist in a defamation case,” Reporters Without Borders said, calling for Talla’s immediate release.

The publisher of the privately-owned weekly Germinal, Talla was arrested on 10 December and was taken to the State Secretariat for Defence (SED), a police unit tasked with combating organised crime. After being held there for four days, he was transferred on the evening of 14 December to Kondengui prison and was taken before the state prosecutor the next day.

Talla was arrested for publishing passages from Ebale Angounou’s book “Blood for Blood” in issue No. 46 of Germinal. Banned by the Cameroonian authorities as libellous in 2001, the book claims that, before becoming president, Biya pledged fealty to his predecessor, Ahmadou Ahidjo, in a secret pact that was sealed by “a homosexual act.”

A particularly combative journalist, Talla has been targeted by the authorities in the past. In July he reported receiving anonymous death threats a few days after the publication of a report by the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD) about personal assets allegedly acquired by President Biya with public funds. Talla had helped to prepare the report.

Another journalist is currently detained in Cameroon. It is Lewis Medjo, the publisher of the weekly La Détente Libre, who has been imprisoned in the southwestern city of Douala since 26 September 2008 for publishing a report about an alleged ploy by President Biya to get the supreme court president to retire early.

A court sentenced him on 7 January to three years in prison and a fine of 2 million CFA francs (about 3,000 euros) on a charge of “disseminating false news.”

The government continues to keep articles in the criminal code that punish press offences harshly. If a newspaper article is deemed to be libellous, sentences of up to several years in prison can be passed on its author or the newspaper’s publisher.