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, and false reporting. Mr. Chouta was not granted bail and remained in detention in the Kondengui prison in Cameroon. Last week, after nearly two years in arbitrary detention, Mr. Chouta was finally released.
On 18 May 2021, Mr. Chouta was convicted of defamation, use of insulting language, and false reporting, and sentenced to 23 months imprisonment with credit for time served and a significant fine. Together with pro bono client the Clooney Foundation for Justice (“CFJ”), Debevoise issued a statement regarding Mr. Chouta’s conviction.
Mr. Chouta’s release last week followed the filing of a communication on his behalf before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Specifically, in November 2020, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP partnered with CFJ to file a communication with the UN Working Group pursuant to its urgent action procedure, arguing that Mr. Chouta’s pre-trial detention itself was arbitrary under international human rights law and requested Mr. Chouta’s immediate release or dismissal of charges. It was part of a global advocacy effort to challenge Mr. Chouta’s arbitrary detention and secure his release.
Debevoise’s partnership with CFJ is part of 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. CFJ's partner the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights monitored Mr. Chouta's trial as part of TrialWatch.
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.