Cameroonian journalist completes five years in “provisional” detention

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the disgraceful judicial conspiracy against Amadou Vamoulké, a Cameroonian journalist who completed his fifth year in “provisional” detention yesterday while a court continued to drag out his trial.

The court adjourned the trial for the 74th time yesterday, the fifth anniversary of Vamoulké’s arrest in 2016 on an absurd charge for which there is no hard evidence. He is accused diverting millions of euros in public funds to benefit CRTV, the public radio and TV broadcaster he ran from 2005 to 2016. 

The prosecution has relied on a single witness, an accountant, without turning to alternative accounting firms, although the accountant has been completely discredited by the defence on various grounds including his exorbitant fees, record delays in producing reports, creation of a fake accounting line in an attempt to incriminate Vamoulké and the fact that a court closed his accounting firms in France for “insufficient assets.” 

The CRTV board terminated the contract of this accountant’s firm in 2018 for “failing to respect ethical rules.” Although the financial ministry is represented on the CRTV board that fired the accountant, it registered as a civil party in the prosecution of Vamoulké, in one more example of the dubious nature of the case fabricated against him. And Vamoulké’s lawyers report that this accountant does regular work for the financial ministry, in an apparent conflict of interests. 

The longer the trial goes on, the more it is revealed that it lacks any basis and the more it bogs down.” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “There is nothing provisional about this journalist’s detention. After five years in prison for no good reason, Amadou Vamoulké has already served a sentence without being tried. This diabolical judicial conspiracy is disgusting. It shames the entire Cameroonian judiciary and the county’s highest political authorities, who have done nothing to end it.” 

Vamoulké’s trial is continuing in the absence of any legal basis. The Cameroonian penal code limits provisional detention to 18 months while the law creating the special criminal court that is trying him specifies that its trials must be completed within nine months. 

After being referred the case by RSF in 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in June 2020 that “the violations of the right to due process are of such gravity that they confer an arbitrary character on Mr. Vamoulké’s detention.” Calling for his release, the UN body also voiced “deep concern” about the “gravity” of his physical condition. 

The judicial persecution has been compounded by the threat to Vamoulké’s health. He was diagnosed with a neurological condition two years ago but has never been able to have the appropriate tests or receive the appropriate treatment. Now aged 71, the ailing journalist should at the very least have been granted a provisional release after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as several of his fellow detainees have caught the virus. 

Cameroon fell one place in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 135th out of 180 countries.

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Updated on 27.07.2021