Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the Clooney Foundation for Justice condemn continued delays in the proceedings against Cameroonian journalist Paul Chouta. Rather than prolong his arbitrary detention, Cameroonian courts should immediately release Mr. Chouta and dismiss all charges against him.
Mr. Chouta was arrested in May 2019 on charges of defamation, insulting language, and false reporting. Under international law, such speech should not be subject to a custodial sentence; however, he has been kept in the overcrowded Kondengui prison in Yaoundé, Cameroon for almost two years. Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and CFJ have filed a communication with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on this basis.
Mr. Chouta’s trial has been adjourned time and again. In January 2021, about 20 months after Mr. Chouta’s arrest, the case was delayed for nearly another month for the production of a report regarding the admissibility of evidence. When the trial resumed in early February, the hearing was again cut short during testimony because of a dispute over the admissibility of one question. Mr. Chouta’s trial has now been adjourned or delayed 20 times, prolonging his detention indefinitely. Further, he has now been in detention for more than half of the maximum amount of time to which he could be sentenced where he was convicted of all three crimes.
The court has the opportunity to end this abusive pattern at the next hearing in Mr. Chouta’s case, which is set for March 4, 2021. It should do so by dismissing the charges against him.