Cameroon: Top New York Lawyers File Case With UN Over Jailed Journalist

Paul Chouta sustained injuries in an attack some months before his detention in May 2019.
17 November 2020

Cape Town — The foundation set up by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her husband, movie star George, is taking up with the United Nations the case of independent journalist Paul Chouta, who has been held in pre-trial detention for the past 18 months.

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, the top New York law firm which is representing the Clooney Foundation for Justice, has announced that it will file the case with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Chouta was detained in May 2019 on charges of publishing defamatory material and false news. According to Debevoise & Plimpton, his trial has since been adjourned 16 times for various reasons. "Mr. Chouta has already been detained for over half of the total duration he would spend in prison if convicted of all his charges," the firm said.

The Clooney Foundation wants the charges against Chouta – a critic of President Paul Biya's government – to be dropped, or for him to be be released immediately while he awaits trial.

The case is being filed under a procedure established by UN Human Rights, the principal UN office dealing with the issue, which empowers it to take Chouta's detention up with the Cameroon government through diplomatic channels and, after investigating the case, to make recommendation for action to the government.

Debevoise & Plimpton, which previously represented detainees held without trial by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said it was acting for Chouta as part of the Clooney Foundation's TrialWatch initiative, which monitors trials of journalists, women, LGBTQ persons, minorities and human rights defenders.

It said its filing with the UN working group argued that "Mr. Chouta's prolonged pre-trial detention is arbitrary under international human rights law because:  (1) the use of pre-trial detention in relation to Mr. Chouta's speech is disproportionate and unnecessary; (2) the deprivation of his liberty violates his right to freedom of expression; and (3) the procedural norms governing pre-trial detention and the right to a fair trial have not been respected."

It quoted Stephen Townley, senior program manager of TrialWatch, as saying, "There is no reason for Mr. Chouta to have been in pre-trial detention for a day, let alone nearly a year and a half.  We call on the Working Group to take urgent action."

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