Day of the Imprisoned Writer – 15th November 2014: SA PEN Celebrates Cameroonian Writer Enoh Meyomesse
15 Nov 2014
The 15th of November marks PEN International’s 33rd anniversary of the annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression.
“November 15 is a day of action and acknowledgement,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. “It is PEN’s way of saying to all of our 900 imprisoned, harassed, murdered and disappeared writers: you are not silenced. You are not forgotten. We stand with you and fight for you.”
South Africans have an intimate knowledge of violence of censorship, the detention of writers and the silence that ensues. On this day we celebrate the Cameroonian writer, Enoh Meyomesse, one of the five cases selected this year to highlight the fate of increasing numbers of writers around the world.
President, PEN South Africa
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER
15 NOVEMBER 2014
Poet, writer, historian, political activist and president of the National Association of Cameroonian Writers
simply because I don’t
see things your way
have you not freed words
have you not freed spirits
have you not freed souls
have you not freed tongues
Oh leaders of this regime
custodians of my people’s destiny
why do you treat me like this
simply because I don’t
see things your way”
‘Why do you treat me like this’
– by Enoh Meyomesse, translated by Dick Jones
Cameroonian poet, Dieudonné Enoh Meyomesse, is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for alleged complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. It has now been 15 months since Meyomesse’s lawyers succeeded in having his case referred to a civil court for appeal. His appeal was expected to be heard on 20 June 2013 but the hearing was postponed. At least 11 further hearings have been postponed due to various legal technicalities. He is currently being held in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, where conditions are extremely poor. Meyomesse suffers from several medical conditions brought on by his treatment in prison, including a debilitating eye condition and a gastrointestinal infection. PEN International believes that the charges against Meyomesse are politically motivated and that his imprisonment is linked to his writings critical of the government and his political activism and thus calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Arrested on 22 November 2011 at Nsimalen International Airport in Yaoundé on the return leg of a trip to Singapore, Meyomesse was charged, alongside three other men, with 1) attempting to organise a coup 2) possessing a firearm 3) aggravated theft. The day after his arrest, Meyomesse was sent to a prison in Bertoua (Eastern Province), where he was held in solitary confinement – and complete darkness – for 30 days.
On 27 December 2012, having already spent 13 months in prison, Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and fined 200,000 CFA (approx. US$418) for supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. His three co-defendants were reportedly sentenced to terms of between two and nine years in prison. No witnesses or evidence were presented during the trial, and he was not allowed to testify in his own defence. According to Meyomesse, he was sentenced “without any proof of wrong-doing on my part, without any witnesses, without any complainants, and more than that, after having been tortured during 30 days by an officer of the military.”
It has now been 15 months since Meyomesse’s lawyers succeeded in having his case referred to a civil court for appeal. His appeal was expected to be heard on 20 June 2013 but the hearing was postponed. At least 12 further hearings have been postponed due to various legal technicalities, most recently on 16 October. The latest date set for the hearing is 20 November 2014; however it remains to be seen whether it will actually take place.
Meyomesse is currently being held in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, where conditions are extremely poor with inmates receiving only one meal a day.
Because of his time held in solitary confinement in total darkness in Bertoua police station in the first month of his confinement, Meyomesse is dealing with a debilitating eye condition that could leave him blind. In addition, he has been hospitalised on a number of occasions over the course of his imprisonment. In May 2014 Meyomesse was moved to the prison infirmary to be treated for malaria and the gastrointestinal infection amoebiasis. Most recently, he was admitted to a military hospital on 9 September, after falling unconscious in his cell for the third time in recent months. He was immediately returned to prison following treatment and his request for bail was denied by the court. Doctors advised that he be placed on a strict diet and should only drink mineral water, which is difficult for him to follow, given prison conditions in Cameroon. He continues to receive ad hoc treatment for amoebiasis.
Prior to his arrest, Meyomesse had published more than 15 books, including novels, essays and works on political and cultural themes. His first book was a collection of poems. In 2010, he published Le massacre de Messa en 1955 (The Massacre of Messa in 1955) and the tract Discours sur le tribalisme (A Discussion on Tribalism), in which he discusses the destructive effects of tribalism in Africa politics. Meyomesse attempted to run as a presidential candidate in the election on 9 October 2011, but was denied registration.
Despite all obstacles, Meyomesse continues to publish his works. In November 2012 Meyomesse self-published a powerful collection of poetry written whilst in detention, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui (Les Editions de Kamerun, November 2012). PEN Centres have been integral to the dissemination of his most recent works: in late 2013 English PEN published their crowd-sourced translation of Poème Carcéral, while Austrian PEN published a German translation of his poems. Keep up-to-date with Meyomesse’s writings and experiences by visiting his website.
Enoh Meyomesse was the recipient of the 2012 Oxfam Novib/PEN Free Expression Award.
“We, people and intellectuals from this part of the world called Africa, are struggling for democracy to become a reality in our lands. It is a difficult struggle, but a struggle in which we are fully engaged. In that struggle, we face intimidations of all sort, and among them, multiple incarcerations. Rulers use the most ideal and least threatening alibi for them, the accusation of having committed a common crime, to silence us, dissidents”. Excerpt from Enoh Meyomesse’s acceptance speech for the 2012 Oxfam Novib/ PEN Freedom of Expression Award.
“[English PEN] have proven to me that, while my biological family has abandoned me, there exists another family – perhaps even more important – a literary family, a family of novelists and poets like me, which is always beside me and will never abandon me.” Quote from letter by Enoh Meyomesse.