Cameroon: Dire prison conditions threaten writer’s health

The health problems of a Cameroonian writer jailed for offending the president’s wife are being exacerbated by prison overcrowding, a poor diet and lack of access to adequate medical care, Amnesty International said today. “Bernard Teyou’s health is rapidly deteriorating because of unacceptable conditions at New Bell Prison,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa, Tawanda Hondora. “The charges against him are spurious at best, and he should be immediately and unconditionally released, but barring that the prison authorities must give him proper food and access to medical care.”Security forces arrested author Bernard Zepherin Teyou in a hotel in Douala on 3 November 2010, while he was attempting to launch a book he wrote about President Paul Biya’s wife, Chantal Biya. The book, La Belle de la République bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais (The Banana Republic’s Beauty: Chantal Biya, from the street to the palace), is about her rise from humble origins to become Cameroon’s First Lady. On 10 November 2010, Cameroon’s High Court found Teyou guilty of charges of “contempt of a personality” and unlawful assembly, despite the fact he informed the Cameroonian authorities about the launch beforehand.Teyou could not pay the fine of 2,030,150 million CFA francs (approximately $4,425 US) and was instead sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Douala’s central New Bell Prison. On 15 February 2011, Teyou launched a hunger strike in protest at conditions in the jail, before his family convinced him to end it due to his deteriorating health. Teyou says he has only had access to external medical treatment when and if he can afford to pay for it. He is said to suffer from heavy bleeding caused by acute haemorrhoids, reportedly exacerbated by the poor prison diet.“When Amnesty International visited New Bell Prison last August, the conditions we found were appalling,” said Tawanda Hondora. “Prisoners are held in an overcrowded and life-threatening environment – some are held in leg irons – where access to proper food and medical care is sorely lacking.“Prison guards are poorly trained and ill-equipped to deal with the number of prisoners, a situation leading to frequent disturbances and escape attempts, some of which are deadly.”In August 2010, New Bell Prison held more than 2,453 inmates despite having an official capacity of 700. Many of its inmates were in pre-trial detention and were held together with convicted prisoners.