A Cameroonian newspaper editor, jailed this month after publishing a
book excerpt that alleged sexual activities by President Paul Biya, was
convicted on Monday of "insulting the head of state."
Judge Ibrahim Ba sentenced Jean-Bosco Talla, managing editor of the
weekly Germinal, to a one-year suspended term and a fine of 3.15
million CFA francs (US$6,800), the paper's editor-in-chief, Duke
Atangana Etotogo, told CPJ. Talla, who has a week to file an appeal,
remained behind bars today at Kondengui Central Prison in the capital,
Yaoundé, pending payment of the fine, he said.
"We are deeply disappointed by this ruling," said CPJ Executive
Director Joel Simon. "Democratic countries are increasingly rejecting
criminal penalties for libel, especially in the case of public figures."
The charges stem from Germinal's publication of an excerpt from a
2001 book alleging sexual activity between Biya and his late
predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo during the transition of power in 1982. The
brief item was part of a special package marking the 20th anniversary
of Ahidjo's death in exile, a date widely covered by the local press.
The controversial allegations and Talla's arrest sparked a national
debate on press freedom and journalism ethics.
In a December 11 column titled "The Urgency of Regaining Control of
the Profession of Journalism," Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff
Joseph Anderson Le accused Talla of "undermining the honor and dignity"
of the president by publishing irresponsible "rantings" and "nonsense"
from a "defamatory book." Others, like journalists Jean-Baptiste
Ketchateng and Alex Gustave Azebaze, questioned the legality of Talla's
arrest and his incommunicado detention at the State Secretariat for
The government is also imprisoning Lewis Medjo, editor of the
defunct tabloid La Détente Libre. Medjo is serving a three-year term on
charges of publishing "false news" about a Supreme Court appointment.