Reporters Without Borders today voiced its fears for the health of three editors who have been held in Kondengui jail in Yaoundé since 10 March 2010 and called for their immediate release.
Serge Sabouang, Robert Mintya and Ngota Ngota Germain have been accused of jointly forging a document with the signature of the Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic, Laurent Esso, with the aim of discrediting him.
Sabouang, editor of the bi-monthly La Nation and Mintya, editor of the privately-owned Le Devoir, were arrested on 26 February following a complaint from Esso about a false document relating to influence-peddling.
They were placed in custody on 10 March with their colleague Germain, editor of the privately-owned Cameroun Express. All three are accused of committing “joint forgery” and face up to 20 years in prison.
The alleged author of the forgery, Simon Hervé Nko’o, a journalist on Bebela, has disappeared. He failed to appear to answer his summons by judicial police.
“The authorities know we are innocent. We only wanted to do our job by attaching the forged document to an interview request to Minister Esso just to check if the document was genuine”, Mintya told Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent in Cameroon, Jules Koum Koum, when he visited him on 16 April. “Now I am languishing in prison for a joint forgery “.
“It will not have escaped notice that these journalists have been deprived of their freedom in the place of the man allegedly guilty of the offence, who is known to the judicial authorities, but has still not been arrested,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Their imprisonment is not only unfair but dangerous. They are being held in collective cells with common-law prisoners and all three journalists are in a very fragile state of psychological and physical health and one of them suffers from high blood pressure and asthma”.
“Unless the authorities act quickly, their health is in danger of seriously deteriorating and their lives could be in danger” the worldwide press freedom organisation added.
Nko’o and Sabouang have already been held by the General Directorate for External Investigation (DGRE), an intelligence agency, from 5-12 February 2010, accused of possessing “documents compromising to key figures in the Republic”. See the previous press release.