RSF’s appeal to the special rapporteur comes just days before Amadou Vamoulké is due to appear before Cameroon’s Special Criminal Tribunal on 26 May for the 30th hearing in his drawn-out trial on a charge of misusing public funds for the benefit of the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster he used to run.
According to an Amnesty International report published earlier this month, at least one detainee has tested positive to Covid-19 in Kondengui prison, located in the capital, Yaoundé, and several other suspected cases have been identified. The report also said that two prisoners died shortly after being released in circumstances suggesting they were infected, and one was buried in his family’s absence.
Amnesty International also reported that the number of detainees in Kondengui prison currently stands at 432% of the inmate population for which it is designed, despite releases ordered by President Paul Biya on 15 April to reduce overcrowding in the country’s prisons. Valmoulké was not one of the detainees to benefit from the presidential measure although he has been held for nearly four years for an alleged economic crime for which the state has yet to find the evidence on which to convict him.
“The Cameroonian authorities cannot continue to expose one of their leading journalists to the possible of dying in prison,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “During a visit to Yaoundé in November, we drew the justice ministry’s attention to the fact that Amadou Vamoulké is not getting appropriate medical care although two medical reports say he needs medevacking. Since then, he has spent his 70th birthday behind bars and at least one case of coronavirus has been identified in his prison, which makes him especially vulnerable. This case’s humanitarian dimension and his right to health should prevail over every other consideration.”
President Biya was one the ten African leaders to whom RSF and 80 other human rights and press freedom organizations wrote on 6 April asking them to immediately release the arbitrarily detained journalists in their prisons because they are routinely denied proper medical care and because medical isolation is not possible.
A week later, RSF addressed a formal written request to the UN special rapporteur on the right to health, the Lithuanian Dainius Pūras, and the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the American David Kaye, asking them to condemn governments that have violated the right to information in connection with the coronavirus epidemic.
Cameroon is ranked 134th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.