Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has partnered with pro bono client the Clooney Foundation for Justice (“CFJ”) to file a communication with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, pursuant to its urgent action procedure on behalf of imprisoned Cameroonian journalist Paul Chouta.
Mr. Chouta is an independent journalist whose reporting has been critical of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya and his government. In May 2019, Mr. Chouta was arrested without a warrant on charges of defamation, use of insulting language, false reporting and hate speech. The hate speech charge was subsequently dropped. Mr. Chouta was not granted bail and has remained in pre-trial detention in Kondengui prison ever since.
The communication was filed as part of the CFJ’s TrialWatch® initiative, which monitors trials of journalists, women, LGBTQ persons, minorities and human rights defenders, and advocates for those who are unjustly imprisoned. The communication requests that the charges against Mr. Chouta be dropped or that he be released immediately pending trial.
According to monitoring undertaken as part of Trialwatch®, Mr. Chouta’s trial has been adjourned 16 times for various reasons, including failure of the complainant to appear in court, failure by the Court to list Mr. Chouta’s case or to locate the evidentiary record in his case, and, on four separate occasions, failure by the authorities to transport him to court. 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 communication argues 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.
Stephen Townley, Senior Program Manager of the TrialWatch® initiative at CFJ, said: “As part of TrialWatch®, CFJ works with partners to rally support for justice for journalists and others whose rights have been violated. In this case, 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.”
The Debevoise team representing Mr. Chouta with CFJ is led by partner Catherine Amirfar and counsel Floriane Lavaud, and includes associates Nelson Goh, Sebastian Dutz, trainee solicitor Clementine Coudert, and law clerks Gianni Pizzitola and Julia Chen.