International desk - Amsterdam- Source IFEX/Pen - The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) welcomes the release on 24 November 2010 of editors Robert Mintya (Le Devoir - pictured left) and Serge Sabouang (La Nation) on orders of the President.
The journalists, who had been imprisoned for alleged forgery since February, were released conditionally pending trial but no date has been announced yet. The WiPC welcomes their release but calls for all charges against them to be dropped.
The WiPC also calls for a full and transparent investigation into the death of co-defendant Germain "Bibi" Ngota Ngota, editor of Cameroun Express, who died in prison on 22 April 2010. It calls too for the immediate and unconditional release of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga, who has been detained since April 2008.
Editors Robert Mintya (Le Devoir) and Serge Sabouang (La Nation) were arrested and briefly detained in early February 2010, along with editor Germain "Bibi" Ngota Ngota (Cameroun Express),and reporter Simon Hervé Nko'o (Bebela). The journalists had been investigating alleged corruption involving Laurent Esso, Secretary General of the President's Office, and the state-run oil company, National Hydrocarbons Company (SNH), of which Esso is also board chairman. Nko'o, who was reportedly tortured while in custody, went into hiding following his release.
Mintya, Sabouang and Ngota were re-arrested on 26 February and charged with forging Esso's signature in a document and using it in an attempt to discredit him. They were transferred to Kondengui prison in the capital Yaoundé on 10 March.
Ngota died on 22 April, according to his death certificate due to a lack of medical attention. The government has denied this and allegations of torture and maintained that Ngota died "as a result of opportunistic infections linked to HIV". Ngota's widow denies that Ngota had the HIV virus, while his brother says that the journalist was tortured in February when he was arrested and taken to the DGRE.
On 8 August, Mintya was reportedly beaten around the head by another prison inmate, causing him to lose consciousness. He was admitted to the prison infirmary and on 25 August was transferred to Yaoundé central hospital but reportedly had no access to free medical care.
A date has not yet been set for Mintya and Sabouang's trial. They reportedly face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (aka Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) remains behind bars. Mbanga's final appeal and request for parole have still not been considered by the Supreme Court despite having served two and a half years of a three-year prison sentence for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots in 2008.
For more information on Mintya and Sabouang case, see:
- http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/cameroon-fears-for-health-of-imprisoned-editor (2 September 2010)
- http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/pen-international-commemorates-50-years-of-its-writers-in-prison-committee-on-the-day-of-the-imprisoned-writer (15 November 2010)
Reports on the release of Mintya and Sabouang:
• Reporters Without Borders (25 November 2010): http://en.rsf.org/cameroon-newspaper-editors-released-25-11-2010,38899.html (English)
• Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) (25 November 2010): http://www.ifex.org/cameroon/2010/11/25/cjfe_welcomes_release/ (English);
• Journaliste en danger (JED) (25 November 2010) http://www.ifex.org/cameroon/2010/11/25/mintya_and_sabouang_released/fr/ (French)