Two journalists given prison sentences a week before World Press Freedom Day
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at the continuing practice of jailing journalists in Cameroon for press offences, as a court sentenced two journalists to five months in jail and a fine of five million francs CFA (7,620 euros) for defamation.
"Exposing serious abuses in an article does not constitute a crime, even in Cameroon," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
Editor of the newspaper, L’il du Sahel, Guibaï Gatama and his journalist colleague Abdoulaye Oumaté were sentenced in their absence by a court in Maroua on 26 April 2005. They had exposed "abuses and extortion practised on the people by the security forces" in an article that appeared in January 2005 headlined Fotokol: the gendarmes block the road. Neither journalist attended court, for fear of arrest, and one of them is believed to have fled the country.
In his article, Abdoulaye Oumaté condemned "the mafia gendarmes of the Fotokol brigade, who on the pretext of fighting ’road-block gangs" roam the region robbing citizens." A defamation complaint was subsequently lodged by the captain of the brigade.
Reporters Without Borders said it also regretted that the court administration was not doing more to try to recover the court file which had mysteriously disappeared from the court clerk’s office, preventing the journalists from lodging an appeal.
L’oeil du Sahel, a regional weekly that was launched in Maroua in 1998, is one of the few newspapers to appear in the region.