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Cameroon16 January 2002

Editor of weekly sentenced to five years’ imprisonment

In a letter to Justice Minister Amadou Ali, RSF asked for clarification following the sentencing of Georges Baongla, publication director of the weekly "Le Démenti", to five years’ imprisonment. "Due process was seemingly not respected in this case. Firstly, Georges Baongla was not warned of his trial’s opening in October 2001. Secondly, he only learned of his sentencing several days after the delivery of the verdict. Thirdly, why did the authorities allow him to remain free for over two months before arresting him in early January? These irregularities lead us t o question the real motive behind the journalist’s sentencing," explained RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "Without judging the merits of the case itself, we call on the Cameroonian authorities to explain the situation," the secretary-general added.

According to information collected by RSF, police officers arrested Baongla at his home on 9 January 2002. Two days later, he appeared before a judge and was jailed at the Nkondengui central prison in Yaoundé. The police officers also seized the newspaper’s computers. In October, the journalist was sentenced in absentia to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 17 million CFA francs (approx. US$22,800; 26,000 euros) for "fraud". He is accused of extorting ten million CFA francs (approx. US$13,400; 15,200 euros) from an official at the Ministry of the Economy and Finances. "Le Démenti"’s editorial staff claim that the "accusations are groundless and were fabricated by the government." They follow the newspaper’s publication of several articles denouncing the misappropriation of funds by the minister of the economy and finances. "Le Démenti" has repeatedly accused the minister of embezzling public monies during the installation of a sewer system in the country.

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