Septuagenarian journalist’s cellmates in Cameroon have Covid-19

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) holds the Cameroonian authorities responsible for what happens to Amadou Vamoulké, a 71-year-old journalist who has been jailed arbitrarily for nearly five years and who reports in an open letter today to the justice minister that at least two of his cellmates have contracted Covid-19 in recent days. This journalist must be freed before it is too late, RSF says.

The former head of the state-owned national radio and TV broadcaster CRTV, Vamoulké reveals in his letter to justice minister Laurent Esso, one of the most influential members of President Paul Biya’s government, that one of his eight cellmates has just returned with “suffocating chest pains” from a brief spell in hospital.

Vamoulké writes that, according to this detainee, another of their cellmates is still hospitalised with Covid-19 and has “40% of his lungs damaged,” and that a third cellmate has symptoms of the virus and has just been placed under medical supervision. Their prison, Kondengui prison in the capital Yaoundé, was built to house 1,000 inmates but currently holds around 3,500.

Vamoulké has been held since July 2016 while being subjected to a never-ending trial on a charge of “misusing funds” – not for his person benefit but for the benefit of CRTV, which he ran from 2005 until his arrest. He has several chronic ailments including a neurological condition described as “severe” by two neurologists who have examined him or seen his medical file and who agree that he needs medevacking for treatment abroad.

“This journalist, who has been held for years in a completely illegal manner, is now in danger of dying because of his age and poor state of health,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Keeping him in detention in these conditions cannot be justified on any grounds. We urge the Cameroonian authorities to free him before it is too late.”

In his letter, Vamoulké voices amazement at the way the justice minister “declared war” on him and says he is aware that his open letter could result in his being transferred to “an even more inhuman place of incarceration” such as the defence ministry’s prison. “But this matters little to me because, without ever having embezzled anything, I have already spend 1,708 days in illegal incarceration,” he fatalistically concludes.

Vamoulke’s trial is being conducted in a completely illegally manner. The court has so far held a record 64 hearings without getting any closer to reaching a verdict. No other Cameroonian journalist has ever been subjected to this kind of judicial treatment.

After RSF drew its attention to the case, the United Nations called for Vamoulké’s release a year ago on the grounds that his detention had “no legal basis.” The violations of his right to due process were so serious that they conferred an “arbitrary character” on his detention, the UN said.

Cameroon is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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