He who rushes to incarcerate someone else winds up inculpating himself.
This is the story in brief of what we can call now the Teyou-Chantal Biya Affair, which opposes the first lady of the Cameroonian Republic to the author of La Belle de la République bananière : Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais. At present, Bertrand Teyou, the author of the above cited book is residing at the central prison of New Bell at Douala where he was transferred November 10, 2010, after being held under arrest for several days at the Central Police Station of the First Arrondissement of Douala. Cameroonian justice, this time was rather expeditious, as such, because he was arrested only on November 3d, 2010. Now already by the 19th of November he was found guilty by Judge Rachel Fotso of the County Court of Douala-Bonanjo, and sentenced to two years of prison, or payment of a fine of 2 million CFA, plus 310, 150 CFA costs. Teyou has just ended a hunger strike which had the effect of mobilizing national and international opinion concerning his case, including those of us coming from three continents and who constitute his committee of liberation-the "Coliberte."
The Cameroonian public minister charged Bertrand Teyou with the crime of "offense to the character of Madame Biya" and of an illegal gathering. These rather serious charges were for a book of 111 pages that the authorities were in such a hurry to seize that they didn't have time to ban it, and for an evening devoted to celebrate the book's publication, an evening which never took place. Never before have the Cameroonian powers worked together with such enthusiasm to attack a book that no one had read since the police commissionner of the department of Wouri, Bernard Okala Bilai, had banned the evening, and the regional representative of the National Police Force Joachim Mbida arrested the author, and the Judge Rachel Fotso, to bring the process quickly to a conclusion decided on his imprisonment. Teyou's book would have been definitively erased from human memory if the commissionner, the regional representative of the National Police Force, and the judge hadn't committed six serious errors, that is :
1. According to the National Penal Code, the arm of justice is supposed to act after, not before, the crime, or if there is a complaint, a denunciation, or a determination of a crime. Now the book, La Belle de la République bananière : Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais, has not been banned. The act of denouncing the crime by a third party was impossible, given the seizure occurred before the ceremony celebrating its publication had taken place, along with the banning and destruction of all copies, including those copies still being stocked at Lipacam and at the office of the author at Akwa. On November third, the régional delegate Joachim Mbida had apparently presented Betrand Teyrou with an arrest warrant, without having left the latter the time to commit the crime he was supposed to have committed.
2. Even in cases of "offense to the character" of someone, the justice system cannot begin to condemn an individual without a complaint or denunciation, without there being situation in which there would be a plaintiff. Now Chantal Biya never made a complaint against Teyou or against La Belle de la République bananière : Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais. The regional représentative of the National Police Force, Joachim Mbida, the commissionner of Wouri Okala Bilai, or the Judge Rachel Fotso have themselves constituted the party of the plaintiff, thus committed serious abuses of their roles.
3. The Cameroonian Penal Code doesn't recognize the category of "Offense to the character" of the wife of the head of state. Thus we have an abusive interpretation of article 153 clause one, which, aside from the president of the republic, the vice-president, and foreign heads of state, doesn't mention members of the families of the above, but rather "any person who exercises all or part of his or her powers."
4. Bertrand Teyou was found guilty of an "illegal gathering" for an evening devoted to the celebration of a publication of a book, as writers often have in Cameroon, an evening for which one never normally needs prior approval from the authorities, a simple declaration sufficing according to penal Code Article 231, and even this is not required. Now in this particular case the author had actually declared that this celebration would take place in the Hotel Somatel. Further, he was arrested in front of the locked door of the room where it was to have taken place.
5. The book La Belle de la République bananière : Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais had been banned and the destruction of copies which were seized had been ordered. Now in this case we have an all too obvious situation where freedom of expression has been violated, freedom protected by Cameroonian law. All the same, the forbidding of the evening of celebration had been promulgated in total violation of the freedom of association which is also protected by Cameroonian law.
6. Lastly, and most importantly, Bertrand Teyou was condemned without having had recourse to the services of a lawyer for his defense, a minimal practice that entails respect for basic citizen rights. Why were the Commissioner of Wouri, the regional delegate of the National Police, and the Judge of the county court of Douala-Bonanjo so pressed to place Bertrand Teyou behind bars? That is the question.
Thus: a Kafkaesque and political trial; judgment without incrimination; incarceration without determination of a crime; without proof even of such; presumption of innocence ignored; rights to defense trampled on. It is never, however, too late to punish those who erred and to repair an injustice that has been committed; the author of La Belle de la République bananière : Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais, who is suffering from hypotension and acute hemorrhoids has already spent four months in prison where, in addition to the psychological torture he has had to bear, he is lodged with common prisoners when not admitted to the hospital. The Committee for the Liberation of Bertrand Teyou (Coliberte) thus asks that the commissioner Okala Bilai, the delegate Joachim Mbida and the Judge Rachel Fotso be relieved of their functions because of having abused justice, and demands the immediate, unconditional freedom of Bertrand Teyou. To be silent is to lend approval to what is unacceptable, and is to open the way to still worse.
Patrice Nganang (writer, State University of New York, Stony Brook)
Brice Nitcheu (activist, London, UK)
Jean-Luc Raharimanana (writer, Madagascar, Paris, France)
Koulsy Lamko (writer, Tchad, Casa Refugio Hankili Africa, Mexico, Mexico)
Makhily Gassama (former minister et adviser of Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal)
Nicolas Martin-Granel (lecturer, scholar, affiliated to the CNRS, Paris, France)
Kenneth Harrow (distinguished professor of English, Michigan State University, USA)
For their protection, the members and contacts of the Coliberte who live in Cameroon are kept anonymous.