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ANOTHER JOURNALIST BEHIND BARS FOR CRIMINAL DEFAMATION

A newspaper editor in Cameroon has been given jail time for "spreading false news" about President Paul Biya, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members. He's the fourth newspaper editor jailed in Cameroon for his work since September 2007, making the country the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa, says CPJ.

On 7 January, Lewis Medjo, editor of the weekly "La Détente Libre", was sentenced to three years in jail and fined 2 million CFA francs (US$4,200) on charges linked to an August 2008 story where it was reported that President Biya had urged the first president of the Supreme Court to take early retirement.

Defence lawyers filed an appeal, but Medjo remains in Douala's New Bell prison, where he says he has suffered two heart attacks and respiratory problems since he was jailed on 26 September, reports CPJ. "La Détente Libre" has not been published since.

"This latest sentence underlines the fact that African jurisdictions far too often respond to press offences by imprisoning journalists rather than through fairer and more appropriate solutions," said RSF.

CPJ and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) have written to President Biya demanding Medjo's release and the urgent abolishment of insult and criminal defamation laws.

Meanwhile, three other newspaper editors, Michel Mombio, Flash Zacharie Ndiomo and Armand Ondoa, have been in Nkondengui Central Prison in the capital, Yaoundé, for more than three months facing criminal charges for critical coverage of government officials, says CPJ. Their trials are due to begin this month.

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) points out that Cameroonian singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga was also sentenced to three years in prison in September 2008, almost six months after his arrest and detention, for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots. Mbanga is known as an outspoken critic of the government, both as a songwriter and an opposition party member. WiPC fears his sentence was connected to his critical lyrics.

WiPC is asking that letters of appeal be sent to President Biya and other Cameroon officials calling for the writers' releases. Find the contact details here: http://tinyurl.com/bj5lpj

Also visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/aclp2u
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29931
- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article18024.html
(28 January 2009)

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