Enoh Meyomesse, one of the five “Writers at Risk” cases selected by PEN last year, was released this week after spending more than three harrowing years in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé.
PEN International and PEN England believe that the charges against the Cameroonian poet, essayist and political activist were politically motivated, and that he was imprisoned because of his criticism of the government and his political activism.
“It’s funny to see the prison from outside,” Meyomesse told writer Patrice Nganang, who campaigned for his release, as reported by The Guardian. “They practically threw me outside. It was quite forceful. But if it is kicking me outside to freedom, then there’s nothing to complain about.”
Meyomesse, who is the author of over 15 books and the recipient of the 2012 Oxfam Novib/PEN Free Expression Award, was arrested in Yaoundé in 2011, and charged, along with three other men, with attempting to organise a coup and aggravated theft. He was sent to a prison in Bertoua in the Eastern Province of Cameroon, and held in solitary confinement and, according to PEN, complete darkness for 30 days.
In 2012, after 13 months in prison, Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. As PEN reported: “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.’”
During his time in prison, Meyomesse suffered from several medical conditions, but continued to write and publish. In November 2012 he self-published a collection of poetry, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui, which available to read online (in French). In 2013 English PEN launched a crowd-sourced translation of the volume in order to raise funds for him and his family, and create greater awareness of his case. Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison is available to download here.
In a powerful piece on the immeasurable value of receiving books in prison, Meyomesse wrote: “They are like oxygen, they cannot be replaced.”
Endangered Scholars Worldwide hopes Meyomesse will be back among his own bookshelves soon.