Communication Minister Briefs Media On Presidential Amnesty


Below is the preliminary statement of the Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary during a press briefing on February 25, 2014 focused on Decree N° 2014/058 of 18 February 2014 to commute and remit sentences.

"The Secretary General of the Ministry of Communication,

The Inspector General,

The Technical Advisers,

Distinguished Inspectors,

Distinguished Directors and Head of Divisions,

Dear Collaborators,

Fellow Journalists,

Dear Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first of all wish you all a warm welcome in this conference hall of my ministry, which has become the usual venue for our regular meetings, to inform the public opinion on national and international burning issues.

I thank you to have, as usual, promptly responded to the invitation I sent you to communicate on daily news which broadcasting and interpretation need sometimes to be clarified.

As you are all aware, on the occasion of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Reunification of Cameroon, the President of the Republic, His Excellency Paul BIYA, took a landmark act of meekness and humanism in favour of some of our compatriots who were detained in the course of judicial suits against them. We are talking about Decree N° 2014/058 of February 18, 2014 to commute and remit sentences of persons sentenced to terms of imprisonment for different offenses. The Head of State signed this decree mindful of the Constitution. This is a government act taken by an authority vested with all powers, and its opportunity should therefore neither be interpreted, commented nor discussed. Such a decree arises from the absolute discretion of the Head of State.

As Minister of Communication, I would merely concentrate on giving you the information, the good information to enable you, Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Journalists, getting sufficient information to dispatch among the citizens and dispel wrongful interpretations and comments which circulate among the public opinion since few days.

That said it is worth mentioning that:

First of all, the Decree of the Head of State occurs within an exceptional context, within a historic moment for the nation, namely the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of our dear and beautiful country, a moment full of symbol with a particular emphasis on ideals and values of national unity, peace and tolerance to which the Cameroonian people is particularly committed.

Secondly, this decree, of general value and to be implemented immediately, is also generally applicable in favour of all those falling within the thirteen (13) cases provided for in the thirteen (13) paragraphs of the decree of 18 February namely:

1- Commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in favour of persons initially sentenced to death;

2- Commutation to twenty (20) years in favour of persons initially sentenced to death and whose sentence has already been commuted to life imprisonment;

3- Commutation to twenty (20) years in favour of persons initially sentenced to life imprisonment that has not yet been commuted;

4- Commutation to twenty-five (25) years imprisonment in favour of persons initially sentenced to life imprisonment, for misappropriation of public funds and whose stay in prison is equal to or above ten (10) years;

5- Total remission of sentence in favour of persons initially sentenced to a term of imprisonment, for misappropriation of public funds, and whose stay in prison for the same sentence is above ten (10) years;

6- Remission of ten (10) years imprisonment in favour of persons initially sentenced to a term of imprisonment, for misappropriation of public funds, and whose stay in prison is below ten (10) years;

7- Remission of three (03) years in favour of persons initially sentenced to death and whose sentence has already been commuted to a term of imprisonment;

8- Remission of three (03) years in favour of persons initially sentenced to life imprisonment that has already been commuted to a term of imprisonment;

9- Remission of three (03) years in favour of persons initially sentenced to life imprisonment that has already been commuted to a term of imprisonment equal to or above ten (10) years;

10- Remission of fifteen (15) months in favour of persons initially sentenced to a term of imprisonment below ten (10) years but above five (05) years;

11- Remission of twelve (12) months in favour of persons initially sentenced to a term of imprisonment below five (05) years but above three (03) years;

12- Remission of eight (08) months in favour of persons initially sentenced to a term of imprisonment below or equal to three (03) years but above one (01) year;

13- Remission of six (06) months in favour of persons initially sentenced to a term of imprisonment below or equal to one (01) year.

As a reminder, grace is a measure of clemency decided by the Head of State, exercising the right conferred to him by the Constitution, under which a prisoner is at his request (clemency) spared from undergoing all or part of the sentence, or is called to serve a lesser sentence than that which was originally imposed.

On the other hand, the sentence commutation mentioned in the decree of the President of the Republic is an alternative measure of a judicial sentence pronounced by another sentence (lesser) following a presidential pardon.

It is good for you to know that this measure concerns twenty-four thousand (24,000) prisoners found in seventy-seven (77) prisons. This decree, which I do not envisage to explain in terms of its nature, has not been tailored, as wrongly relayed by some press, which fortunately appears to be rather shallow.

As we speak, the implementation process of this exceptional decision of the Head of State is well advanced. I have the honor to inform the national and international press that the Minister of State, Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals has already set in motion the formal administrative procedures to ensure that the immediate application of the Decree of the Head of State takes immediate effect in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.

The States' Prosecutors in all the 10 regions of Cameroon have already been seized. They have in their turn seized the Regional Delegates of the Prison Administration monitoring the management of prisons, for them to take appropriate measures with managers of prisons, who are in charge to draw up a record and transmit it to the relevant Procureur General after the authorization of the State Prosecutor, etc… The cases presenting some difficulties will be brought to the knowledge of the hierarchy. As you may have certainly understood, the quest for a quick implementation should not override on the need to proper administer justice. That is why, and you must also know, a record of cases under the Decree of the Head of State should be established after the careful checking of profiles in the seventy-seven (77) prisons in our country.

It is only after this formal stage which aim is to protect us for any inconvenience that the lucky beneficiaries of the Presidential Decree will benefit from the application of this text. It is therefore not proper for me at this level to say exactly when the release of this or that prisoner will be effective. It is only after examining the criminal profile that we would be able to know those who have benefited from this decision.

Moreover, and as you know, some of the beneficiaries are already free and that will continue

In the event where we randomly select a case to illustrate the general applicability of the Decree of the President of the Republic, I would mention the cases in which Mr. Titus Edzoa and ATANGANA ABEGA Michel Thierry were pursued, tried and sentenced by the court of our country.

You have certainly been hearing of the accused facts in public debates.

The First Case

In the years 1995-1996, the international Cocoa Organization allocated some money to ONCPB and to Cameroon. Mr. Titus Edzoa collected one billion CFA francs from this money which he transferred into a private account in which Michel Thierry ATANGANA ABEGA and himself had a joint signature.

Informed of the steps undertaken by them for the disbursement of this money, the government ordered those responsible to pay not to execute the payment. Unfortunately, they had already withdrawn three hundred fifty million CFA francs (350 million CFA).

They were therefore tried and sentenced for embezzling public funds in accomplice of the sum of three hundred and fifty million francs and attempted siphoning of public funds in accomplice of the sum of six hundred and fifty million CFA francs.

Second Case

During the 32nd OAU Summit, the State of Cameroon drafted a budget for the organization of the Summit.

Mr. Titus Edzoa and Michel Thierry ATANGANA drafted a parallel budget by asking Managers of State-owned Companies, economic operators and Managers of State Oil Company to pay money into a private account. These amounts were considered as taxes which had to be recovered as special tax on petroleum products. In this second case, there were donations in kind, such as Korean vehicles which they diverted and used for personal profit.

For this second case, Mr. Titus Edzoa and Michel Thierry ATANGANA ABEGA were also prosecuted for misappropriation of public funds and attempt to divert public money in complicity.

Our penal law, voted in 1967, that is to say a long time before the claims made by some media, provides in its article ninety-four (94) that, and I quote : "any attempt to commit a felony or misdemeanour shall mean the performance of any act towards its commission unambiguously indicating an irrevocable intention to commit it, and shall be treated, where execution has been arrested or has failed solely by reason of circumstances independent of the offender's will, as the commission of the felony or misdemeanour attempted" End of quote.

As far as the misappropriation of public funds is concerned, Article One Hundred and eighty-four (184) of the penal code punishes with life imprisonment whoever by any means takes or keeps dishonestly any property, belonging to, in transmission to, or entrusted to the State, or to any authority or corporation either public or subject to the administrative control of the State, or in which the State holds directly or indirectly the majority of the shares, if the value of the property is more than one hundred thousand (100 000) CFA Francs and less than five hundred thousand (500 000) CFA Francs, the imprisonment term is from fifteen (15) to twenty (20) years.

The decision to forfeit the property of the guilty is compulsorily issued by the competent court.

Dear Journalists,

As you can notice, we are dealing here with two separate cases for which the members of the judiciary have given the accused a wide range of mitigating circumstances. That is why they were sentenced to the terms of imprisonment you all know.

In relation to these cases, a given media evoked some considerations alleging a dismissal of proceedings that may have been issued in a case where arbitrary and irregular arrests or even slow proceedings occurred.

As concerns the dismissal of proceedings to annul some charges against a given accused, this order was cancelled following an appeal by the State Prosecutor. This procedure provided by the Criminal Procedure Code is applicable to all citizens who can seize the Instruction Control Bench as necessary. Those who visit the Court or those who comment hearings are perfectly aware of the foregoing.

As far as irregular arrest or arrest without warrant of arrest, etc. is concerned, article five hundred and eighty four (584) of the Criminal Procedure Code in relation to habeas Corpus provides that: the President of the High Court of the place of arrest or detention of a person, or any other Magistrate of the seat of the said Court designated by him, is competent to hear requests on immediate release, based on the unlawfulness of an arrest or a detention or on the non-observation of formalities prescribed by the Law. He is equally competent in hearing appeals against administrative custody measures.

The Government has in its possession sufficient information to attest that the accused Titus EDZOA and Michel Thierry ATANGANA ABEGA have indeed resorted to such procedures.

On the matter of slow proceedings, during public hearings, you have certainly learned that these accused have often requested referrals, be it at the level of First instance or Court of Appeal on the grounds that their counsels were unavailable on the one hand, and they accepted to speak, on the other hand, just under certain circumstances only at the Court of Appeal.

A lawsuite is said to have been filled on behalf of Mister Michel Thierry ATANGANA ABEGA, with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Council for Human Rights.

1. Context

In August 2013, the Working group on Arbitrary Detention forwarded to Cameroon, a request for information relating to the communication submitted on behalf of Mister Michel Thierry ATANGANA ABEGA.

Under the terms of this complaint, Mister ATANGANA might have been arrested on May 12th 1997 by some elements of Special Operation Forces, without a warrant of arrest and detained by the Judiciary police in Yaoundé, under the unofficial grounds that he supported Government's opponents.

On October 23 2008, after 12 years, a dismissal of proceedings, annulling all charges against Mister ATANGANA was issued at High Court. This dismissal order was cancelled following an appeal by the State Prosecutor who may not have been notified to the interested person. He would have been sentenced anew by the Mfoundi High Court, for the same matters, to twenty (20) years of imprisonment plus a five-year enforcement by committal. He appealed.

This new sentence, which occurred fifteen years after the first one, already served by the concerned and a dismissal of proceedings cannot, according to communication, be considered as a court ruling.

Cameroon has prepared, to the attention of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, its comments on the said communication. The country has denied the allegation of political detention and evidenced that Mr ATANGANA ABEGA was condemned for common law offences: misappropriation of public funds in coaction and attempted misappropriation of public funds amounting respectively to one billion one hundred and thirthy-six million one hundred and ninety-three thousand four hundred and fourty four (1 136 193 444) CFA Francs and fifty-nine billion four hundred million four hundred thousand (59 400 400 000) within the framework of the special tax on petroleum products and the preparation of the thirty-second (32nd) Summit of the OAU). To these offences should be added the traffic of influence, within the framework of a first procedure which led to his sentencing to fifteen (15) years of imprisonment.

In a second procedure for which he was sentenced to twenty (20) years of imprisonment, he was accused of misappropriation of three hundred and fifty millions (350 000 000) and an attempted misappropriation of six hundred and fifty millions (650 000 000) from the sale of the regulating stock of the international agreement on cocoa.

Such elements, which went out of time, have unfortunately not been taken into consideration by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions which issued its notice on November 13, 2013, despite the request for deadline extension by Cameroon pursuant to the Group's internal rules and regulations.

2- Of the opinion of the Working Group

On the only basis of information gotten from Mr. ATANGANA ABEGA, the Working group considered as arbitrary, the detention of the aforementioned person on the motives that he had been sanctioned for money debts and for haven expressed his right to take part in management of public affairs. He is accusing the Government of transgressing the non bis in idem principle (not to be judged twice for the same facts), the absence of a warrant order and a prolonged custody.

The Working group therefore ordered on Cameroon to release Mr. ATANGANA, to investigate and sanction those responsible for this depravity of freedom and to pay him compensation in reparation of the caused prejudice. Created by the former United Nations Commission for Human Rights and not by virtue of a treaty, this Working Group is therefore not vested with judicial powers, conferred by treaties, to force a Government to engage a legal action or put an end to a violation of fundamental rights. Its aim is to help victims of arbitrary arrests and their parents in submitting a particular case to the concerned government.

Therefore it can only make recommendations, in form of advices, which governments are free to implement or not.

For the case preceding, national jurisdictions, as we just demonstrated it, rendered decisions on the grounds of procedures conducted in conformity to the Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code

In a nutshell, the President of the Republic waited for the independent Judiciary to fulfil its mandate; he waited for the decisions to become final before making use of the sovereign power conferred to him by the Constitution.

As you all know, the President of the Republic expressed the desire to make the commemoration of the Fifty years of Reunification a moment of communion and feasting for all Cameroonians, wherever they are. This is the message that you, the media, should keep relaying among citizens and friends of Cameroon at both national and international levels.

The government cannot pretend to comment on or appreciate court decisions issued by criminal courts in as much as the judiciary power is exercised by the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and tribunals. It is independent from the Executive and Legislative powers.

The Government recommends to National and International media to respect court decisions issued by the Supreme Court without commenting them, to relay them while processing such information in a professional manner without pretending to substitute Magistrates because in no country in the world, Justice is administered by media.

Thank you for your kind attention."


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