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Cameroonian Editor Dies in Prison

April 27, 2010

The BBC have reported that a Cameroonian journalist died in prison last Friday after allegedly being denied proper medical treatment during his incarceration. The 38 year old was known to have prior health problems, MSF had described him as having “high blood pressure and asthma.”

Germain C. Ngota Ngota, editor of the Cameroon Express bi-monthly private newspaper, was arrested along with two colleagues, on March 10th and charged with “imitating the signature of a member of government,” an offense carrying a sentence of up to 15 years.

“We hold them (Cameroonian authorities) responsible for his death,” said CPJ Africa Program Co-ordinator Tom Rhodes. The press freedom organization had previously sent an open letter that asserted that Ngota was held in response to his discovery of possible corruption surrounding a purchase made by a state-run oil company. Ngota’s investigation cast a shadow of doubt over the progress of Operation Sparrowhawk, an ongoing drive by the Cameroonian government to stamp out corruption.

In February, Cameroon’s Minister of Communications, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, defended Operation Sparrowhawk from accusations in the French press that indicated that the anti corruption initiative was selective. In an interview on Cameroon Radio and Television(CRTV), the minister told reporters that the measures taken by government were not selective and urged journalists not to allow “destabilization forces” within their ranks.

According to Pana, the Senegal based African news agency, Bakary also denied that Ngota did not receive adequate medical attention in a press conference held after news of his death broke out. While he recognized that Ngota’s medical file confirmed that he was ill, he was treated by prison doctors and did not display symptoms that suggested that he required emergency attention. However, Bakary did concede that the conditions at the prison needed to be improved and called for an investigation into Ngota’s death.

The Cameroon Journalists Trade Union has urged the government to set up an independent commission to investigate Ngota’s death. RSF have also called for an investigation “so that the dead man’s colleagues, who are extremely fragile, physically and psychologically, do not end up succumbing to the same dreadful prison conditions.”

Photo Credit: Le Jour

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.