The 70-year-old Vamoulké’s detention for nearly four years lacks a legal basis because it “exceeds the maximum limit set by the law” and because the authorities have failed to explain why it should be regarded as “reasonable and necessary,” the UN panel said. The Working Group transmitted these findings in the past few days to the Cameroonian government and to RSF, which first referred the Vamoulké case to this panel of UN experts in January 2019.
Accused of misusing public funds for the benefit of CRTV, the state radio and TV broadcaster he was running when arrested in July 2016, Vamoulké is being subjected to a drawn-out trial in which more than 30 hearings have so far been held without any evidence being produced to support the charges. RSF has repeatedly condemned the iniquitous nature of these proceedings, which seem to be a reprisal for Vamoulké’s commitment to journalistic ethics and editorial independence when he ran CRTV.
The UN Working Group said “the violations of the right to due process are of such gravity that they confer an arbitrary character on Mr. Vamoulké’s detention.” Urging the authorities to free him “immediately,” the panel also asked them to “ensure that he receives the necessary medical treatment in every way possible.” Vamoulké is very ill and two medical examinations have recommended more extensive examinations that cannot be carried out in Cameroon. The authorities have nonetheless failed to provide him with appropriate treatment. They did not even grant him a provisional release after Covid-19 arrived in the Yaoundé prison where he is being held. Voicing “deep concern” about the “gravity” of his condition, the UN experts said they have decided to refer his case to the UN special rapporteur on the right to health, a mechanism which RSF has also already activated.
“The UN’s conclusions on the arbitrary character of this leading African journalist’s detention concur with RSF’s assessment and add a new voice to the many that are already calling for his release,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We urge the Cameroonian authorities to hear these calls. Aside from the many flaws in the judicial proceedings, which have been observed and established, this journalist is elderly and sick, and is living in a prison hit by the coronavirus epidemic. The humanitarian dimension of the case should prevail in order to prevent the worst from happening.”
Cameroon’s President Paul 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 all detained journalists because social distancing is impossible in overcrowded prisons during the coronavirus epidemic and prisoners are often denied the medical care they need.
Cameroon is ranked 134th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.