- In Yaoundé, a first instance court handed down a double sentence to Ayisi Biloa, the publication director for the Yaoundé-based 'Nouvelle Afrique', for six months' imprisonment. Mr Biloa was accused of libelling Jean-Pierre Mayo and Grégoire Owona, a Cameroonian medical doctor and a Minister in charge of relationships with assemblies, respectively. He is one of several editors outing alleged homosexuals in a controversial campaign.
Mr Biloa is the second Cameroonian journalist to be sentenced in the controversial affair. In addition to the six months' imprisonment, the editor was sentenced to pay a 3 million and 1 million FCFA (euro 4,500 and 1,500) fine, respectively, to each of the plaintiffs for damages.
According to charges against Mr Biloa, he named Mr Mayo and Minister Owona in a "list of homosexuals of Cameroon", published in a 'Nouvelle Afrique' January issue. Several other Cameroonian populist newspapers published similar lists, claiming these men were a danger to society due to their alleged sexual orientation. None of the newspapers named any sources or other proof for the allegations.
This sentence is the second one handed down by the same Yaoundé court for the same case. On 3 March, Jean Pierre Belinga Amougou, publication director for the Yaoundé-based 'L'Anecdote', was sentenced to four months' imprisonment and a fine of 1 million FCFA (euro 1,500). Mr Amougou was charged with libelling the same Grégoire Owona, whose name had been retaken on a "list of homosexuals of Cameroon", published in January by 'L'Anecdote'.
Overall, from January to early February, more than ten complaints concerning defamation have been filed with the Yaoundé court against journalists and their papers. The latter have been given several names of religious leaders, artists, athletes and politicians of Cameroon, accused of being homosexuals.
In Cameroon, homosexuality is a breach of law that can cost one from six months to five years' imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 FCFA (euro 30 to 300). Lately, this law has been enforced and a police raid against a Yaoundé gay club last year ended up in more than ten arrests.
While the Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) today was critical on the sentencing of the two Cameroonian journalists - notably within condemning it - other groups earlier have criticised the publishing of the lists. Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in February compared these Cameroonian newspapers with the "hate media" of Rwanda and Côte d'Ivoire, saying this "bad practise of journalism" lent itself to political score settling.
Many Cameroonians have also asked why these newspapers had found a sudden interest in "revealing" so-called homosexuals. The "revelations" indeed were odd. They only included name lists and photos, but no named sources or facts behind the "revelation". The country's most serious publications, including 'Mutations', 'Le Messager' and 'Le Jeune Observateur', have shied away from the outing campaign due to press ethics.
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