April 30, 2015
Cameroonian writer and activist Enoh Meyomesse released from prison
by Taylor Sperry
While debates continue to rage around PEN’s selection of Charlie Hebdo as the recipient of their Freedom of Expression Courage award (as of this writing, 35 members have signed a letter of dissent), the Cameroonian poet, essayist, and political activist Enoh Meyomesse has been released from prison after more than three years of lobbying by free speech campaigns—among them, notably, the efforts of PEN International.
In October 2011, Meyomesse challenged Paul Biya (who had been in office for thirty years) for the Cameroon presidency; Meyomesse not only lost, but he was arrested the following month and placed in solitary confinement for thirty days, before being transferred to Kondengui Central Prison. His charges ranged from armed robbery, to the illegal sale of gold, to an attempt to start a coup, but his arrest is widely considered a response to his political views.
In 2012, the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International published a letter protesting his imprisonment, and in January 2013, Meyomesse became the recipient of the Oxfam Novib/PEN Free Expression award.
Meyomesse continued to write while he was in prison, and after another postponed appeal hearing last year (his seventh), English PEN launched a print-on-demand edition of his poetry collection Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison to raise funds to lobby for his release.
In addition to publishing his work, PEN made Meyomesse a “focus case” in its campaign to make books available to prisoners around the world. In a powerful response to their efforts, Meyomesse wrote:
I am one of the many people who has benefited from the books sent to prisoners all over the world by English PEN. They have brought me an irreplaceable joy and huge moral support whilst in Kondengui Prison. They 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.
I am thankful that English PEN continues to nourish the spirits of those in distress throughout the world, of which I am just one, by continuing to send books. They are like oxygen, they cannot be replaced.
Prisoner at the Yaounde Central Prison.
After his release, Meyomesse told the writer Patrice Nganang, “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.”
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.