By Clovis Atatah & Chantal-Fleur Skaehr The Yaounde Magistrate Court Tuesday, March 28, began listening to evidence tendered by one of the journalists who was dragged to court for publishing a list of 50 suspected homosexuals.
By Clovis Atatah & Chantal-Fleur Skaehr
The Yaounde Magistrate Court Tuesday, March 28, began listening to evidence tendered by one of the journalists who was dragged to court for publishing a list of 50 suspected homosexuals.
Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga, Publisher of L'Anecdote (defendant), produced the highly awaited "evidence" against Gregoire Owona, Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Relations with the Assembly (plaintiff) as the court began hearing the substantive case in the fourth day of the trial.
L'Anecdote's Publisher began producing the "evidence" after futile attempts by his lawyers to delay the process. There were murmurs of disappointment in Court Room 5 when it turned out that the "video evidence" that Amougou was widely believed to possess was an audio CD.
"Evidence" on the audio CD was a purported telephone conversation between Amougou Belinga and an unnamed person in Douala, who claimed that Gregoire Owona was involved in homosexual practices. The anonymous caller promised to provide evidence when the time comes. Lawyers for Owona, whose wife accompanied him to the hearing, however, challenged this evidence arguing that it was doubtful.
The courtroom was full and the premises of the courthouse were crowded with curious members of the public who were anxious to watch the video evidence. The crowds were attracted by the fact that the defence had in the previous session, brought video equipment to court, suggesting that they had video evidence.
The court session opened with fireworks as Owona's lawyers challenged the opposing side to produce the evidence they had been bragging so much about. Prosecution lawyers claimed there were legal shortcomings to some of the evidence the defence had tendered but they were willing to admit it because they wanted to clear their client's name. Owona's lawyers expressed willingness to accept any evidence the defence team wanted to produce.
They also said they wanted to hear the experts and witnesses the defence team had promised would testify in court. They argued against further delays, insisting that all they wanted was the evidence the defence had against their client. They doubted that the defence had evidence, accusing the opposing camp of delay tactics.
A lawyer for the plaintiff said journalists in the most part are responsible people who gather the facts with accompanying evidence before going to press. In that case, a journalist already has evidence before he/she is dragged to court. In the case of Amougou Belinga, he pointed out, the paper claimed their publication was based on a three-year investigation. It was therefore not necessary, he argued, for them to be trying to get evidence only now.
Defence lawyers fired back, pointing out that they were not afraid of producing evidence. A defence lawyer actually drew applause when he said, "We have evidence … we will show your client [Gregoire Owona] what he did when the time comes."
Defence lawyers pointed out that they were not yet ready to start producing evidence because they first wanted to clear certain legal ambiguities in the matter. They said their witnesses were not in court.
The presiding Judge, however, ruled that the defence team should present the evidence in their possession.
They brought forward a Yaounde-based journalist, Gilbert Tsala Ekani, whom they referred to as an expert in communication with international repute. Ekani explained the concept of anonymity in journalism. They also played the CD containing the telephone conversation.
Upon questioning, Amougou Belinga appeared to be cornered. He admitted not having incontrovertible evidence, explaining that they were not affirmative in their publication and referred to Owona as a "suspect".
Owona's lawyers equally brought forward their client who refused ever indulging in homosexual practices. He said l'Anecdote's publication had seriously damaged his reputation and exposed his family to ridicule.
The Judge called a recess at 5.30 pm. When the session resumed at 6.30 pm, the Judge observed that there were no lights and adjourned the session for Wednesday.
In an earlier suit that Tuesday, between Gregoire Owona and Biloa Ayissi, whose newspaper, Nouvelle Afrique, also published the list of suspected homosexuals, defence lawyers raised an objection on the neutrality of the Judge. The Judge fixed ruling on the objection for March 14.
When the trial resumed around 12.30 pm on Wednesday, March 1, Owona's lawyers and the state prosecution, observed that Amougou had not produced the much-trumpeted evidence. The lawyers, making allusions to the damage the publication had on Owona, described him as a living corpse. They sought to establish that L'Anecdote's publication was false and malicious. Owona's lawyers requested a symbolic 1-franc as reparation for damages.
According to Owona's lawyers, their client was more interested in reclaiming his honour and reputation that the publication had seriously damaged. They equally requested for the publication of the judgement in many print and audio-visual media organs that they listed.
For their part, Amougou's lawyers insisted their client was in court for defamation and not to provide evidence on homosexuality. They tried to establish that their client had not been affirmative and that it was not his fault if the public had misunderstood him. The defence lawyers also argued that Amougou was not malicious, adding that he had not caused any specific injuries to the plaintiff. At press time Wednesday evening, the defence lawyers were still presenting their case.