November 29, 2010

President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70

Mr. Philemon Yang
Prime Minister
Fax: +237 22 23 57 35

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we welcome the release of editors Robert Mintya and Serge Sabouang, but remain concerned that they still face trial.

According to PEN’s information, Le Devoir editor Robert Mintya and La Nation editor Serge Sabouang were released from prison on orders of the president on November 24, 2010, after having been detained since February. Their release is conditional pending trial, the date of which has not yet been announced. If convicted, the two face up to 20 years in prison.  

Mintya and Sabouang were arrested and briefly detained along with Cameroon Express editor Germain “Bibi” Ngota Ngota and Bebela reporter Simon Hervé Nko’o in early February 2010 after 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. Mintya, Sabouang, and Ngota were rearrested on February 26 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 of Yaoundé on March 10. On April 22, Ngota died in prison due to a lack of medical attention, according to his death certificate. He had reportedly been tortured in prison.

On August 8, Mintya was reportedly beaten around the head by another prison inmate, causing him to lose consciousness. He was admitted to the prison infirmary and transferred to Yaoundé Central Hospital on August 25, but apparently had no access to free medical care.

PEN American Center welcomes the release of editors Robert Mintya and Serge Sabouang, but remains very concerned that they still face trial and up to 20 years in prison. We believe that they are being punished solely for their critical reporting, in violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cameroon is a signatory, and therefore urge that all charges against them be dropped. We also reiterate our call for a thorough and transparent investigation into the death of Germain “Bibi” Ngota Ngota, and for the immediate and unconditional release of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga, who remains detained in violation of his right to freedom of expression.  

Thank you for your urgent attention to this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula                                              
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee           
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador H.E. Joseph B. C. Foe-Atangana 
Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon
1700 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007
Fax: (202) 387-3826

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