As Yaoundé's Special Criminal Court prepares to issue a ruling tomorrow on a request for the release of Amadou Vamoulké, the former head of Cameroon's state radio and TV broadcaster CRTV, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says there are no longer any legal grounds whatsoever for holding this journalist, who has been denied appropriate medical care for months.
Are the court's three judges finally going to release Vamoulké for the rest of his trial so that he can receive the medical treatment he needs and, furthermore, because there is no legal justification for his continued preventive detention?
Vamoulké has so far been held for more than three years for allegedly misusing state funds - not for personal ends but with the sole aim of benefitting CRTV - a charge for which the prosecution has produced no evidence at any of the previous 24 trial hearings. Tomorrow's will be the 25th.
The request for Vamoulké's release that was submitted by his lawyers includes two medical reports attesting to the neurological condition he has had for the past several months, which is described as "severe" by one of the two neurologists and which requires treatment and further tests that can only be carried out abroad. These medical certificates have not been disputed by the prosecution.
The judges have also been given a copy of the land title showing that Vamoulké owns a home. This document has not been disputed by the prosecution either. It is significant because previous requests for his release were rejected on the grounds of "absence of a known residence." RSF also has a copy, and has visited the Vamoulké family in this house, where they have lived for many years.
At the last hearing, the attorney-general asked the court to reject the provisional release request on the grounds that the gravity of the charges and the penalties Vamoulké is facing prevents him from benefitting from the Cameroonian criminal code's "benevolent provisions."Nonetheless, one of Vamoulké's co-defendants has not been placed in provisional detention. Also, article 221 of the criminal code says no one may be detained provisionally for more than 18 months. The law creating the Special Criminal Court says its trials must be completed within nine months. And prolonging Vamoulké's provisional detention could now have irreparable consequences for his health.
"The court is morally and legally obliged to release Amadou Vamoulké provisionally," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "There can be no doubt about the fact that he has an illness needing medical attention that is incompatible with his continued detention. He has never expressed a desire to elude justice, he owns a home of which proof has beengiven to the court, and he has already spent more than three years in provisional detention,much longer than the law permits."
During a visit to Vamoulké in prison on 19 November, RSF saw how he has been forced to buy vitamins in an attempt to assuage the acute pains in his feet that he continues to suffer in the absence of any treatment for the neuropathy diagnosed in September. Two weeks ago, RSF used an emergency procedure to refer Valmouké's case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and to the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Several members of RSF's staff, British and Canadian embassy representatives and Cameroonian and foreign journalists attended the previous hearing on 21 November.
Cameroon is ranked 131st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.