Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Amadou Vamoulké, the former head of state-owned Cameroon Radio & Television (CRTV), who has been held on trumped-up embezzlement charges since July 2016 and is due to appear in court again on 4 December in a trial already postponed 14 times in a row.
The prosecution is scheduled on 4 December to submit interim conclusions at the next hearing before the Special Criminal Court in Yaoundé, giving the judges an opportunity to decide whether to continue the trial. In the two years and four months since Vamoulké’s arrest, the attorney-general has yet to produce any hard evidence justifying the decision to detain and try him.
Vamoulké is accused of misusing the equivalent of nearly 6 million euros in public funds – not for his personal benefit but for the benefit of the public radio and TV broadcaster he ran from 2005 to 2016. However, most of the 14 hearings so far held have lasted no more than several minutes. Neither an audit nor witness has so far been produced to support the charges.
In a statement last year, the Francophone Press Union (UPF) said Vamoulké had “demonstrated his honesty and the quality of his management throughout his period at the head of CRTV” and pointed out that many well-known figures had attested to his integrity.
The International Committee for Amadou Vamoulké’s Rehabilitation and Release (CIRLAV), chaired by former Radio France director-general Alain Massé, thinks he is being “punished for trying to promote ethical principles.” This included cutting his own salary, which he regarded as obscenely high, and creating a transparent system for announcing vacant posts – unusual measures that threatened established practices and interests. “The manager is being attacked but it is the journalist they want to neutralize,” the committee said.
Former colleagues of Vamoulké told RSF that an “outspoken style and editorial boldness” prevailed under his leadership. “He began to turn CRTV into a public service broadcaster that covered all subjects, including the most sensitive ones, such as the fight against terrorism in the north of the country,” one colleague said.
“This journalist is unanimously hailed by his Cameroonian and foreign peers as a model of professionalism and integrity but instead of being held up as an example in Cameroon, he has languished in prison for more than two years,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “In the absence of any evidence to support the charges, we count on the Special Criminal Court to rid this stain on the Cameroonian judicial system by dropping all charges against this former head of the public TV service, so that he can be released. Cameroon cannot continue to be the only country in the region that keeps on detaining journalists arbitrarily.”
Vamoulké’s prolonged detention also contravenes article 10 of the law creating the Special Criminal Court, which says its judges must reach a verdict within nine months of the start of a trial. The first hearing in Vamoulké’s trial was more than 15 months ago.
Staunch press freedom defender
Vamoulké has long been one of Cameroon’s leading journalistic figures. He was first in his year at the Yaoundé School of Journalism, which was founded by Hervé Bourges, the onetime head of three French broadcasters (TF1, France Télévisions and RFI) and former president of France’s High Council for Broadcasting. Bourges is another of the many foreign journalists to have expressed support for Vamoulké, who was also the first president of the Union of Cameroonian Journalists.
Vamoulké campaigned actively for an end to the state’s monopoly of TV broadcasting in Cameroon and was a staunch advocate of the decriminalization of press offences. Like RSF, he fought for the release of Pius Njawé, an icon of independent journalism in Cameroon who was detained for 10 months for referring to President Paul Biya’s ailing health in an article in his newspaper.
RSF has constantly called for an end to the arbitrary detention of journalists in Cameroon and repeatedly condemned RFI correspondent Ahmed Abba’s imprisonment during the 29 months that he was held, until his release on 22 December 2017. Earlier this month, RSF condemned Equinoxe TV presenter Mimi Mefo’s
t for trial before a military court. President Biya ordered her released the next day.
Cameroon is ranked 129th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.