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Editors released conditionally on orders of President

Cameroonian journalist Robert Myinta
Cameroonian journalist Robert Myinta

Cameroonian journalists Robert Mintya and Serge Sabouang were released conditionally on 24 November on the order of President Paul Biya, report Journaliste en danger (JED), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). They had been in prison since March 2010.

Mintya, the editor of the weekly "Le Devoir" and chair of the ethics board of Union des Journalists Libres du Cameroun, and Sabouang, publisher of the bimonthly newspaper "La Nation", were arrested in March and accused of forging the signature of the President's Chief of Staff, Laurent Esso.

RSF says there were unconfirmed reports that Esso died the night before they were released.

Bibi Ngota, editor of the "Cameroun Express", was also jailed with the other two journalists. Ngota died while in custody on 22 April of unconfirmed causes, but CJFE believes that he died due to the "appalling conditions in the prison and a lack of medical attention."

The three journalists were honoured with CJFE's International Press Freedom Award last week. Ngota's sister, Thérèse Tchoubet, speaking from Toronto said, "We have CJFE to thank. Their recognition of the case contributed directly to the liberation of Serge and Robert. It is a victory."

Sabouang told JED that they were never brought to trial. "Despite our release, the case is still pending before the court," he added. CJFE is urging the government of Cameroon to drop all charges in recognition that Mintya and Sabouang, along with Ngota, were simply doing their jobs as journalists, and have committed no crime.

"The fact they were released the day before they were to receive their awards is proof to us that bringing international pressure to bear can have an incredible impact," said CJFE. "It is an inspiration to continue this important work on behalf of our colleagues in Cameroon and around the world."

As a result of the two newspaper editors' prolonged detention and Ngota's death, Cameroon fell 20 places in RSF's 2010 press freedom index.

Meanwhile, fellow Cameroonian journalist Rosine Flore Azanmene of Radio Tiemeni Siantou received the "Jean Hélène" Francophone Prize for Press Freedom last week in Paris for a radio broadcast in August about the failure to provide adequate food to the detainees in Yaoundé's main prison. The prize was jointly created by RSF, RFI - France's leading 24-hour international news radio station, and the Department for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights of the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF).

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