RSF | Cameroonian journalist Amadou Vamoulké, the septuagenarian former head of the national radio and TV broadcaster, has just completed his 2,000th day in detention without being convicted on any charge. Cameroon’s disgraceful treatment of Vamoulké falls far below even the most basic standards of justice and human dignity, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Adjourned 90 times, his trial is the longest to have been held as part of the anti-corruption drive known as Operation Sparrowhawk that the Cameroonian authorities launched in 2006. Critics have often accused them of exploiting Sparrowhawk to get rid of personalities regarded as a nuisance. Aside from the shocking treatment of journalists in Eritrea, which is one of the world’s worst dictatorships and is rightly last in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, this case has also broken all records for the longest detention of an African journalist without being convicted. Vamoulké has been held for more than five and a half years.
Arrested on 29 July 2016, Vamoulké is the subject of two distinct grotesque proceedings on charges of misusing public funds as director-general of Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) – charges for which absolutely no evidence and no witness has ever been produced by the prosecution. In letter on 29 December to the secretary-general of the prime minister’s office, whose duties include ensuring Cameroon’s compliance with the international conventions and treaties it has signed, Vamoulké’s French and Cameroonian lawyers called on the authorities to free him in order to comply with the decision issued on 12 July 2020 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. After being referred the case by RSF, the Working Group issued an unambiguous determination that Vamoulké’s provisional detention has “no legal basis” and that the violations of the right to due process are “of such gravity” that they confer an “arbitrary character” on Mr. Vamoulké’s detention.
“Two thousand days in prison and 90 trial adjournments – these are dizzying figures behind which lies the life of a journalist broken by five and a half years of totally illegal provisional detention,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We reiterate our appeal to the Cameroonian authorities to end this judicial persecution, which is breaking all records, which is arbitrarily depriving a journalist of his freedom, and which is discrediting all of the Cameroonian institutions involved.”
In its decision, the UN Working Group also voiced concern about the health of Vamoulké, who will be 72 next month and who suffers from an illness described by medical experts as “severe.” He has never been given the tests and treatment required by his ailment and he is in great danger from Covid-19 because of his age and pre-existing conditions, and because of prison over-crowding.
Cameroon is ranked 135th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.