Charges were dropped against the Mayor of Njombe-Penja but he remains in prison
Transparency International demands Cameroonian authorities take immediate action to release Paul Eric Kingue of Njombe-Penja after more than seven years of unlawful imprisonment.
In 2007 Kingue accused the Cameroon based branch of French banana producer Plantations du Haut Penja of tax fraud. After demonstrations in Njombe-Penja, the district in West Cameroon where he was elected mayor, Kingue was arrested in February 2008 and charged with orchestrating the protests.
“Why is this brave corruption fighter who dares to hold the powerful to account being treated like a criminal? The Cameroonian judiciary should release this important and vital advocate for workers’ and people’s rights immediately,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.
Transparency International and its chapter in Cameroon has been demanding his release along with other organisations, including Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH).
It is widely believed the charges against Kingue of “aiding and abetting gang looting and inciting rebellion” and “forgery and misappropriation of public property” were in retaliation for his initial accusations. He was given a life sentence in February 2012 following criminal proceedings conducted in serious violation of his rights.
Already in August last year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion stating that a number of procedural guarantees were not applied in Kingue’s case, questioning the independence of the judiciary and obliging the government to ensure the release and compensation of Kingue.
As a result of this the public prosecutor dropped the charges against him early this year. In the last hearing that took place on 18 June, Kingue was thus supposed to be finally released. But the judge required the public prosecutor to produce the original documents of the previous judiciary instances, adjourning the case to next month on what can only be described as a technicality.
Transparency International Cameroon, through its Anti-Corruption and Legal Advice Centre, has been investigating allegations of bad business practices made against Plantations du Haut Penja, a company that runs a number of banana plantations in Njombé-Penja, a district in West Cameroon. PHP is owned by the French multinational Compagnie Fruitière.
It is alleged that PHP has not paid tax on its operations in Njombé-Penja, thereby depriving a poor region of much-needed funds for development. It is also alleged that PHP uses pesticides banned in Europe, causing damage to both the health of its workers and the land. The company denies all the allegations against it.
“Paul Eric Kingue must be released immediately and the Cameroonian judiciary must stop delaying this case in apparent retaliation against an anticorruption champion. Cameroonian authorities must guarantee the independence of the judiciary, investigate allegations of abuse against workers and make every effort to ensure taxes are paid where due for the benefit of the population of Njombe-Penja,” said Ugaz.
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