The Douala appeal court today granted a provisional release order for Jules Koum Koum, the editor of the independent fortnightly Le Jeune Observateur, who has spent the past month in very harsh conditions in New Bell prison serving a six-month sentence for libel. He was expected to be released as soon as the legal formalities were completed.
Reached by telephone, Koum told Reporters Without Borders the support and campaigning on his behalf by international organizations and local journalists and news media were very important. Without it, he would almost certainly have had to wait much longer before being released, he said.
Reporters Without Borders said the Cameroonian authorities should learn their lesson from Koum’s case and ensure that the press never again has to endure such a harrowing ordeal. "Vigilance is still required because Le Jeune Observateur will have to appear in court again in other libel cases," the press freedom organization warned.
Le Jeune Observateur has to appear in court on 28 February to face another libel action from CPA, the insurance company whose lawsuits have been responsible for Koum’s imprisonment. The company filed a total of three related complaints over an article by Koum, but the judge refused to combine them into a single trial.
Another lawsuit brought against the newspaper by the former defence minister and the current foreign minister, Laurent Esso, is due to be heard on 5 April.
26 January 2005 - Justice minister urged to intervene in case of journalist jailed for six months
Reporters Without Borders wrote today to Cameroon’s justice minister, Amadou Ali, asking him to intervene in the case of Le Jeune Observateur newspaper editor Jules Koum Koum, who has been held in New Bell prison in Douala since receiving a six-month sentence for libel on 10 January.
"His imprisonment has stunned the press community in Cameroon and must come to an end, as it is unacceptable in a country that wants to show its support for press freedom," the letter said, urging the minister to do everything in his power to obtain Koum’s release. A copy was sent to communication minister Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo.
The editor of the fortnightly Le Jeune Observateur, Koum was convicted of libel over an article questioning the management of two insurance companies.
19 January 2005 - Journalist sentenced to six months in prison over article about insurance companies
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the six-month prison sentence imposed on 10 January on Jules Koum Koum, the editor of the independent fortnightly Le Jeune Observateur, for alleged libel in an article questioning the management of two insurance companies.
Koum has been held in New Bell prison in Douala, the country’s business capital, ever since the sentence was handed down.
"Imposing a prison sentence on a journalist for libel represents a clear step backwards for press freedom in Cameroon," Reporters Without Borders said.
"Far from being a crime, reporting that certain companies are not functioning properly comes under a journalist’s duty to inform the public," the press freedom organisation stressed, endorsing a call for a "day without news" on 21 January issued by a Koum support committee.
"It is time the Cameroon government stopped targeting the independent press and heeded calls by journalists for the decriminalization of press offences," Reporters Without Borders said, adding, "if it really wants to prove its support for press freedom, it should follow the example set in this regard by countries such as Togo, the Central African Republic and Uganda."
Koum was convicted of libel as a result of an action brought by the CPA insurance company over an article he published on 8 February 2004 questioning the reliability and good management of CPA and another insurance company, Satellite. Some sources claim that the judge in charge of the case is related to a CPA executive.
His conviction has outraged the independent press, which formed a Koum support committee on the initiative of L’Aurore Plus editor Michel Michaut Moussala. Its members include Le Front editor Peter William Mandio, Habeas Corpus editor Samuel Mben Mben and Nyemb Popoli, who edits a satirical newspaper. On the "day without news" they have called for 21 January, radio stations will only play music in the morning.
Moussala and Cameroon Union of Journalists president Célestin Lingo went to see communication minister Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo this afternoon, but Mbonjo said he could not see them without an appointment and suggested a meeting later in the day. As Moussala had to return to Doula, he will probably see the minister next week.