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France - Cameroon

16th anniversary of Frenchman imprisoned in Cameroon

Michel Thierry Atangana
Michel Thierry Atangana Facebook page/Libérez Michel Atangana

12 May will mark the 16th anniversary that French businessman Michel Thierry Atangana has been imprisoned in Cameroon, after being accused of embezzling public funds and put on trial without a lawyer.

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 In 1997, he was initially sentenced to 15 years after an overnight trial. Last year a second trial was held to decide the fate of Atangana. The court in the capital Yaoundé found him to be guilty, and he was once again sentenced to another 20 years behind bars along with a fine of 1.7 million euros to be paid to the state of Cameroon.

For his family, lawyer and observers of Cameroonian politics, both his trials were purely political.

Atangana has always maintained his innocence. His family believes he was targeted because at the time he was close with the former health minister who challenged President Paul Biya for presidency.

In 1994, he was sent to Cameroon by his employer, the French group Jean Lefebre, to work on transportation projects.

His family has said they were angry with the French government who did not provide any support for Atangana in the first 12 years of his imprisonment. A marked shift in his case only happened after a new French ambassador took up his post in Cameroon in 2009. It was then that Atangana began receiving visits from French officials who also attended his court hearings.

For now, a large protest was organized earlier this week, and a Facebook page continues to push for the release of Mr. Atangana.

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