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Cameroon presidential staff lose appeal for assaulting journalist

Swiss police dispersed around 250 people who were demonstrating against the presence of Cameroonian President Paul Biya at the InterContinental Geneva hotel in June 2019. Keystone / Martial Trezzini

A Geneva court has rejected the appeal of six members of Cameroon president Paul Biya’s security detail who were convicted for assaulting a Swiss journalist during the president’s visit last year.

This content was published on November 10, 2020 - 12:08
Keystone-SDA/jdp

Robert Assaël, the lawyer of one of the defendants, confirmed reports of the judgement in local Geneva media on Tuesday. He added that the Geneva appeals court had violated international law with the judgement as the president’s staff enjoy diplomatic immunity, preventing them from criminal prosecution.

“It doesn’t matter if the head of state was on a private visit, was inside the hotel and was not approached [by the journalist].”

The journalist from Swiss public television, RTS, was assaulted by the president’s entourage in front of the InterContinental Hotel, where Biya was staying during a visit to Geneva in June 2019.

The journalist said members of Biya’s security team took his bag containing a mobile phone and wallet. The seized items were later returned. He sustained minor injuries.

‘Unacceptable’

The incident took place during a demonstration outside the hotel where Biya was staying by a group of protesters. The assault prompted Switzerland to summon the ambassador of Cameroon to Bern, where he was told that “such incidents are unacceptable, and that freedom of the press is protected and must be respected”.

The six employees were initially arrested in June 2019 and given suspended prison sentences. In July, Geneva prosecutors found the individuals (five men and one woman) guilty of coercion, damage to property and illegal appropriation. The Geneva judiciary found no justification for the response by Biya’s team.

According to reports in the French-language paper La Tribune de Genève, the defendants plan to appeal to the federal court.

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