Cameroon: Seven-year prison sentence confirmed for writer
On 8 January 2013 it was announced that writer Enoh Meyomesse is to be honoured with an Oxfam Novib / PEN Freedom of Expression Award. More than a year after his arrest, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on 27 December 2012.
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International believes Meyomesse’s detention, charges and conviction to be politically motivated and calls on the Cameroonian authorities to quash the conviction and to release him immediately and unconditionally.
He was convicted on charges of supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. He was also sentenced to a fine of 200,000 CFA (£247), as requested by the state prosecutor. The writer had already spent 13 months in prison before being sentenced, and he was initially charged with attempting to organise a coup, possessing a firearm and aggravated theft.
Meyomesse is currently held in the over-crowded Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé. His first month in detention was spent in solitary confinement and in complete darkness, which reportedly provoked a debilitating eye condition which could have left him blind. Meyomesse’s lawyers are currently in the process of launching an appeal. Three other defendants in the case were sentenced to custodial terms of between two and nine years.
Award ceremony in Hague
The Oxfam Novib / PEN Freedom of Expression Award will be presented in his absence at a ceremony during The Writers Unlimited Winternachten Festival in The Hague on 17 January 2013. Here is an excerpt from Enoh Meyomesse’s acceptance speech:
‘Rulers use the most ideal and least threatening alibi for them, the accusation of having committed a common crime, to silence us, dissidents, a situation similar to what happened during the Cold War in Eastern European dictatorships, in the Greece of colonels, in Portugal under the dictatorship of Salazar, in Spain under Franco.
‘Luckily, you, people from the North, souls of good will from Western countries where democracy is truly established, stand resolutely on our side. In doing so you prove that people’s freedom and solidarity does not know boundaries.
‘In presenting this award to the wretched writer that I am, captive in the depths of a Cameroonian jail, you have joined your powerful voice to mine and to that of the many anonymous men and women who are incarcerated in my country because their opinion has not pleased some high-ranking officials in the state apparatus who therefore used judges to unleash their vengeance against them.’
(Translation by Patrice Nganang)
Enoh Meyomesse, 57, is the author of numerous books and is a founding member of the Cameroon Writers Association. Arrested on 22 November 2011, Meyomesse was initially charged with attempting to organise a coup, possessing a firearm and aggravated theft. Meyomesse denied all charges and maintained that he had been arrested because of views expressed in his writings, and for his political activism. Meyomesse was a candidate for the presidential election on 9 October 2011, under the banner of the opposition party United National Front (UNF).
Since the moment of Meyomesse’s arrest, there were serious concerns about the charges against him, and also about his treatment in prison, which at times amounted to torture. There were reports that the prosecution had fabricated evidence, and that Meyomesse was denied proper legal representation for the first few months of his incarceration. Amnesty International considers Meyomesse to be a prisoner of conscience.
By June 2012, all of the charges against Meyomesse had been dropped, however in July 2012 the WiPC learned that a judge had ordered the extension of Meyomesse’s detention so that the prosecutor could ostensibly search for evidence against the writer. Meyomesse was subsequently charged with being an accomplice to theft and illegal traffic of gold and, after numerous procedural delays was found guilty as charged on 27 December 2012.
Persecuted and exiled writer
After previously writing a book critical of Cameroon’s president, another Cameroonian writer, Bertrand Teyou, was imprisoned in November 2010 for having written a book which is highly critical of the first lady of Cameroon. Unable to pay the substantial fine demanded for his release, he spent six months in Douala’s New Bell prison, known for its horrible conditions. A news conference for his previous book ‘l’Antécode Biya: Au coeur d’un pays sans tête’ was banned in Douala, and Bertrand Teyou was later charged with attempting to disturb the public order, among other crimes, for “his involvement in the publication of a statement calling for demonstrations and strike to protest the high price of fuel.”
Bertrand Teyou left Cameroon due to the persecution, and lives in Mexico City, where he continues to suffer serious health problems resulting from his imprisonment.
The The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International has campaigned on Meyomesse’s behalf since his arrest more than a year ago, in collaboration with a small group of his friends and supporters who visit him regularly in prison. These supporters have been subjected to attacks by pro-government media, and in one case, to arrest.
For more information about the Oxfam Novib / PEN Freedom of Expression Award, see: oxfamnovib.nl.
PEN encourages you to send appeals:
- Protesting the conviction of writer and activist Enoh Meyomesse on charges of supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold, and the seven-year prison sentence handed down to him on 27 December 2012;
- Noting that PEN believes the case against him to be politically motivated and that Meyomesse is the recipient of an Oxfam Novib / PEN Freedom of Expression Award 2012;
- Calling on the Cameroonian authorities to quash the conviction and to release Meyomesse immediately and unconditionally.
English PEN – 4 January 2013:
Writer Enoh Meyomesse sentenced to seven years in prison
Facebook page: ‘Free Enoh Meyomesse’
Artsfreedom.org – 5 July 2012:
Cameroon: Writer’s detention extended by six months