Friday, March 25, 2011

CAMEROON: Author jailed for insulting President’s wife

25 March 2011

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International condemns the imprisonment of author Bertrand Teyou, detained since November 2010 for ‘insulting' President Biya's wife in a book published last year and for attempting to hold a public reading of the offending text. Teyou was jailed after he failed to pay a US$4,371 fine imposed at the end of a summary trial in which he had no legal representation. The WiPC considers Teyou's conviction and imprisonment to be a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression and assembly under international law. It calls for the ruling to be overturned and for Teyou to be released immediately and unconditionally.

Bertrand Teyou is serving a two-year prison sentence for ‘insulting' President Paul Biya's wife in his 2010 book La belle de la république bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais (The belle of the banana republic: Chantal Biya, from the streets to the palace) (Éditions Nation Libre, Douala), in a case brought by the Cameroonian state. He was also charged with attempting to organise a public reading from the book.

Teyou was arrested on 3 November 2010, detained for a week in a central Doulala police station and transferred to New Bell prison in the same city on 10 November. In an astonishingly swift legal process by Cameroonian standards, on 19 November Teyou was found guilty of ‘insult to character' and organising an ‘illegal demonstration', and ordered to pay 2,030,150 CFA (US$4,371) in fines and costs or, in the event of non payment, to spend two years in prison. As he was unable to pay the fine imposed he was re-imprisoned following sentencing.

Teyou had no recourse to a defence lawyer during his trial. His lack of legal representation meant he was unable to meet the 10-day deadline to appeal his sentence.

The author had reportedly notified the authorities of his intention to hold a book reading but was arrested before it could take place. Copies of his book were seized and destroyed; however the book has reportedly not been officially banned.

Teyou went on hunger strike in February 2011 in protest at his treatment in prison. He is suffering from health problems linked to the poor diet in prison, including severe bleeding from haemorrhoids. According to Teyou, he has received medical treatment at Douala General Hospital but only if and when he can pay for it. He says he also has to pay for a space to sleep in prison.

In an interview from his prison cell, Teyou said: "My book is the free expression of a citizen. I hold no grudge again the First Lady but I refuse to live in a country where she has excessive control over the lives of citizens. I cannot stand the fact that our country is rotten and no one seems to be bothered about doing something to turn things around. We are entitled to rise against the injustice that is crippling our country. We cannot let evil go unquestioned. This is the attitude I adopt in my writing. The struggle continues in spite of the travails I am going through right now. Each hurdle reinvigorates me. This system is bad for everyone."

Teyou has written two other books: L'Antécode Biya (Biya Anti-Code) (Éditions Nation Libre, Douala, 2009) about President Biya, for which he has reportedly also been subject to harassment, and Sortir de l'impasse (Getting out of the dead end).

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