Reporters Without Borders today condemned a three-year prison sentence handed down to Lewis Medjo, managing editor of the weekly La Détente libre, and urged the authorities to allow him bail. He has been in Douala central prison in the west of the country since 22 September 2008.
Medjo was found guilty on 7 January of “spreading false news” and sentenced by the Douala court to three years in prison and a fine of two million CFA francs (more than 3,000 euros) in connection with the publication on 7 August 2008, of an article headlined “Thunderbolt at the Supreme Court: Biya fires Dipanda Mouelle”. This referred to an alleged move by the head of state, Paul Biya, to push the first president of the Supreme Court, Alexis Dipanda Mouelle, into taking early retirement in 2009.
The newspaper has also established a further link between the arrest of the journalist and the appearance of another article published in August, headlined “"Mebe Ngo’o puts (Yves-Michel) Fotso’s passport up for auction”. This article referred to an alleged attempt to extort money from businessman Victor Fotso, father of Yves-Michel Fotso, also a businessman, with the collusion of Delegate General for National Security, Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o.
“This latest sentence underlines the fact that African jurisdictions far too often respond to press offences by imprisoning journalists rather than through fairer and more appropriate solutions”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“Even if it is established that a libel has been committed, the very harsh penalty imposed on Lewis Medjo does no credit to the Cameroon justice system and does nothing to undo the harm suffered by the victim. The authorities should be aware that they are making a new martyr of him when they should be resolving this case by other means,”
Lewis Medjo was arrested on 22 September 2008 and held in custody at the Littoral police division. He was then placed under arrest at Douala central prison on the orders of the public ministry, on 26 September. His trial was adjourned on several occasions for “administrative reasons”.