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Cameroon30 August 2007

Editor sentenced in absentia to a year in prison, father arrested instead

Reporters Without Borders today urged the Cameroonian government to call the authorities in the English-speaking, northwestern province of Mbui to order after a court in the provincial capital of Kumbo sentenced Wirkwa Eric Tayu, the editor of The Nso Voice local newspaper, on 13 August to a year in prison in a trial marked by abuse of authority.

Tayu was convicted in absentia on various charges, including defaming the Kumbo authorities by quoting the report of a central government audit that accused them of embezzling funds earmarked for surfacing roads.

“It is unacceptable that provincial authorities flout the democratic rules prevailing at the national level,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While it may not be able to intervene in judicial cases, the central government should at least ensure legal procedures are followed, which is clearly not the case here. The prosecution of The Nso Voice should anyway be abandoned as the offending article was based on a government document and the trial was clearly an attempt by the Mbui authorities to silence the newspaper.”

Tayu went into hiding six days before the trial, in which he was sentenced to 12 months in prison and a fine of 850,000 CFA francs (1,300 euros) for disseminating inaccurate information, publishing an unlicensed supplement and failing to submit copies of each issue to the local prosecutor’s office prior to publication.

As his father, a local community elder, had undertaken to ensure that Tayu would attend the trial, he was arrested and then released on bail of 50,000 CFA francs (75 euros). Unable to “produce” his son, as required by the court, he was sentenced to a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (600 euros), which he has not been able to pay in full.

The Nso Voice has stopped publishing since the trial for fear of reprisals. The offending article that cited the government audit was headlined “Corruption / Embezzlement Scandal at Kumbo Urban Council” and was published in April. Tayu already had a spell in prison in 2004 on a similar defamation charge.

As regards the other charges, publishing supplements without a specific licence is a widely accepted practice in the Cameroonian print media, while the requirement to submit a copy of each issue prior to publication has not been enforced for years in the major cities.

The National Union of Cameroonian Journalists said plans to give local authorities the power to police the local press were scrapped at the start of this year under pressure from the media. As for jailing a father instead of his son, there is nothing in Cameroon’s criminal law that permits this.

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