Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now welcomes the release of journalist Lewis Medjo from prison in Cameroon. Medjo was arrested in February 2017 and sentenced to two years in prison on criminal defamation charges. He was released on August 29 after serving approximately six months and paying a fine.
“Lewis Medjo’s unwavering commitment to exposing human rights abuses and corruption has established him as one of Cameroon’s most important independent voices,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “We are grateful that he is now free, but are deeply disappointed in the Cameroonian government for yet again targeting a prominent journalist and critic. We call on President Paul Biya to guarantee Lewis’s safety and ensure that he can continue to operate without government interference.”
Prior to his arrest, Medjo served as managing editor of the weekly newspaper La Détente Libre. He is well known for his reporting on human rights and good governance issues. Because his reporting was often critical of the Cameroonian government, he and his family were regularly harassed by government agents. Freedom Now previously served as Medjo’s international pro bono counsel when he was wrongfully imprisoned on charges of “spreading false news” in 2008 after publishing an article which speculated that President Biya was compromising the independence of the judiciary. Medjo was released in 2010 and three months later resumed publication of La Détente Libre.
Medjo was most recently arrested in February 2017 and sentenced to six months in prison and a $1,800 fine on the charge of defamation. Because he was unable to immediately pay the fine, his sentence was increased to two years. The charge stemmed from a story he published in November 2012 which alleged that a prominent lawyer and politician was stealing cars. Medjo was convicted in absentia in 2013, but not arrested until this year. He was detained at the central prison in Bafoussam where he was subjected to repeated harassment by prison officials, banned from visiting with lawyers and family members, and transferred to a different cell once authorities were aware that Freedom Now was advocating on his behalf. An appeal is still pending with the Bafoussam Court of Appeal as Medjo’s domestic lawyers seek to have the conviction overturned. While incarcerated, Medjo’s health deteriorated gravely and he continues to suffer from the effects of prior heart attacks, respiratory illness, dental problems and an ear infection which has left him deaf in his right ear.
The Cameroonian government initiated a widespread crackdown on dissent and protest beginning in October 2016 that has included the use of defamation and anti-terrorism laws to curtail independent journalists’ reporting and coverage of human rights violations. Between December 2016 and February 2017, at least nine journalists, including Medjo, were arrested on spurious charges. Many of these journalists still remain in detention and await judgement before military tribunals.