Cameroon: Journalists without Borders Petition UN over Frivolous Imprisonment of Journalists

Reporters Without Borders, (RSF) has asked the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health to pressure the Cameroon government to release Ahmadou Vamoulke, a journalist and former Director General of the state-owned broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV.

Vamoulke was arrested four years ago on charges of embezzlement of funds from the CRTV in which he was Director General from 2005 to 2016.

He is scheduled to appear in court for the 30th time on May 26, but RSF is pushing for his release over concerns his health is failing, and that at 70, he is much more open to contract the raging Coronavirus.

Such concerns are bolstered by an Amnesty International Report that indicates at least one case of Coronavirus has been confirmed and several others suspected at the Yaounde Kondengui maximum security prison. It also indicates that at least two people from the prison died shortly after being freed under circumstances that look like they died from Covid-19. And in a prison with an overpopulation rate of 432%, the risk of a substantial outbreak of Covid-19 is real.

“The Cameroonian authorities cannot continue to expose one of their leading journalists to the possibility of dying in prison,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.

 

During a visit to Yaoundé in November, we drew the justice ministry’s attention to the fact that Amadou Vamoulke is not getting appropriate medical care although two medical reports established that he needs medical evacuation. Since then, he has spent his 70th birthday behind bars and at least one case of Coronavirus has been identified in his prison, which makes him especially vulnerable. This situation makes him particularly vulnerable. The humanitarian dimension of his case and his right to health should prevail over every other consideration”.

 

Medical reports say Valmouke is suffering from “severe” neuropathy; a condition the jailed journalist says gives him “pains in both feet” and keeps him awake at night.

 

 Amadou Vamoulke has been Confined to Prison Custody wihtout any Clearly Justified Charges (C) Twitter

 

“In the absence of appropriate medical care, this journalist is reduced to treating himself with vitamins that he buys with his own money after reading online that they could help to relieve his pain”, said Arnaud Froger.

 

The authorities must free Amadou Vamoulké before it is too late. If the denial of medical care continues, he could lose the use of his legs. Regardless of the substance of the case, which has dragged on for years in the absence of evidence, the court has at the very least an obligation not to put this eminent journalist’s life in danger. His medical evacuation is a moral obligation.”

 

US senators have also joined in calls for Vamoulke and other journalists arrested on “politically motivated charges” to be released.

 

In a letter addressed to President Paul Biya dated Friday May 8, 2020, the senators said the treatment of these journalists “reflects a troubling pattern of repression regarding free speech and freedom of the press”.

 

“Given their dubious detention and danger of infection by Coronavirus to which prison populations are especially vulnerable, we urge that these three journalists be released without delay,” the letter reads in part.

 

In December last year, Vamoulke himself penned an emotional letter in a desperate push to get a medical evacuation. He said denying him a medical evacuation despite the assessment by medics about the extreme gravity of his neuropathy, and the fact that there are no local facilities to treat the condition, smacks of cynicism.

 

“What God have I offended and what price will I pay for my redemption,” Vamoulke wondered.

Accused of embezzling several million dollars during his tenure as Director General of CRTV, no evidence of that theft has however been presented for his numerous court appearances in the last four years.