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Leading Cameroonian journalist held arbitrarily for seven years, health failing

Reporters sans frontières | As Amadou Vamoulké, the former director-general of Cameroon’s national radio and TV broadcaster CRTV, completes his seventh year in arbitrary detention today (29 July), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voices concern about his failing health and calls on the Cameroonian authorities to allow him access to appropriate medical care, quash his conviction and free him.

An appeal by one of Vamoulké’s lawyers against the rejection of a habeas corpus petition is due to be heard on 1 August, four days into his eighth year in arbitrary detention.

“I have contracted several illnesses in prison,” reports Vamoulké, whose detention has “no legal basis” and whose state of health is the subject of “deep concern,” the United Nations said in 2020 in response to a referral by RSF. His health has continued to decline since the authorities sentenced him to 12 years in prison in December 2022 on a trumped-up charge of “misusing public funds” while running the state-owned national broadcaster.

“Amadou Vamoulké is the victim of a particularly alarming case of judicial persecution. It is absolutely intolerable that a journalist – one of Cameroon’s leading media figures – is still in prison and is being denied appropriate medical care despite having serious health problems. He has been held for seven years on spurious charges unsupported by any tangible evidence. We appeal to the Cameroonian authorities to release this journalist at once. His situation must be reviewed during the appeal hearing on 1 August in the habeas corpus proceedings initiated by his lawyers.”

Sadibou Marong
Director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa desk

At least six pathologies, access to treatment denied

Now aged 73, Vamoulké suffers from a neurological condition described as “severe” by two neurologists who have examined his medical file. He contracted the condition, which he says is “extremely painful,” after being jailed in Kondengui prison, in the capital Yaoundé. He developed other conditions there, including asthma, which was aggravated by “the very unhealthy air you breathe in the prison.” And he suffers from dental problems, glaucoma, high blood pressure and prostatitis that need costly treatment.

Vamoulké’s neurological condition requires tests and treatment that would be “difficult to provide in Cameroon,” according to one of the neurologists who has studied his case, the Paris-based professor of neurology Hervé Taillia, who already recommended “hospitalisation in France” back in 2019. But all of Vamoulké’s requests for a provisional release for the purpose of medical tests have been rejected, as have all of his other judicial petitions and appeals.

Absurd conviction

Vamoulké has been held ever since his arrest on 29 July 2016 on the absurd charge of “misusing public funds” – not for his personal benefit but for the benefit of CRTV, the public broadcaster he ran from 2005 to 2016. After six and a half years in provisional detention and a trial before a special criminal court that was adjourned 150 times, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison and a fine of 47 million CFA francs (70,000 euros). After his appeal, the court ordered him to pay an additional 390,000 CFA francs (600 euros) for “photocopying case file costs.”

Vamoulké is manifestly the victim of “false imprisonment,” one of his lawyers, Guy Gueyo Kamga, told RSF. He said his client was arrested “on the basis of an illegal provisional detention warrant” and his detention ever since has been clearly arbitrary and political in nature. The prosecution produced no serious evidence or testimony during the trial, which was conducted in a manner that violated both national and international law. The judges were legally required to deliver a verdict within nine months and Cameroon’s criminal code places an 18-month limit on provisional detention, while Vamoulké’s lasted nearly six and a half years.

Kamga filed a habeas corpus petition in April 2023 calling for Vamoulké’s release on the grounds of the arbitrary nature of his detention. The petition was rejected at the end of June but Kamga appealed this decision and the next hearing is scheduled for 1 August. To support the petition, Vamoulké wrote to President Paul Biya on 9 June asking him to intercede on his behalf. The letter remains unanswered.

Cameroon fell 20 places in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 138th out of 180 countries.