His trial was a festival of irregularities. Michel Thierry Atangana paid a heavy price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After seventeen years locked in a cell, he tells in a heartbreaking book a return to his native country which has become a descent into hell.
It is enough to observe his frail silhouette, slightly arched in the gray autumnal Paris, to guess it easily: the ankle of Michel Thierry Atangana still makes him suffer excruciatingly, reminding him of that fatal day in May 1997 when his life turned upside down after his humiliating arrest. for suspicion of embezzlement of public funds. A nagging memory, a bone had cracked under the boot of one of the police officers who had come to arrest him. He was subsequently taken out of his cell and operated on without anesthesia. He had been told that the procedure would last twenty minutes. He had to grit his teeth for an hour.
If the thrills have never left him again, the pain never deforms the features of his face, youthful but impassive, nor does it break his sweet, almost whispering voice, which makes him tell his chilling story with the intonations of a storyteller. for children. Last April, he made an appointment with journalists in the meeting room of Antoine Vey, his Parisian lawyer. He could then be listened to explain the outlines of a bill under consideration by the National Assembly aimed in particular at establishing a mechanism authorizing the French State to take the place of the foreign State to ensure compensation for one of its nationals whose detention has previously been recognized as abusive by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It is his fight of the hour.
Surprises and emotions
At the end of the interview, he announced the upcoming publication of his book, Judicial hostage, 17 years in prison for nothing, co-written with Anna Véronique El Baze and published by Le Recherches-Midi editions. A few weeks later, he sent a signed copy to the editorial staff of Young Africa. “The fight for justice and dignity must be brought to an end,” he writes.
For those who think they know everything about this business, reading the book reserves an experience full of surprises and all kinds of emotions. Never Atangana had recounted in detail the details of his arrest, the lies recounted by certain witnesses, the almost personal conflict between him and the prosecutor, the end of his marriage almost in full court, the methods of the police and the prosecution to force him to “let go” Titus Edzoa, this former secretary general of the presidency, quarreled with his “friend” President Biya, who had declared himself a candidate for the presidency and whom the latter had decided to punish.
The “deal” proposed by investigators in Atangana is then clear. “All we expect from you is to testify against Professor Titus Edzoa (…) You have to cooperate. Everyone testified against him. All that’s missing is you (…) Play the game and you will be released. The President of the Republic wants to know the truth. When he finds out, he will forgive. He is a good man. Don’t be the evil genius of power. Professor Edzoa deserves to be sentenced to death for his treason. You are young, it would be foolish to destroy your life for him. “
“I live in a prison without bars”
This former prisoner, released by a sentence reduction decree signed by Paul Biya following intense French diplomatic pressure, spares us nothing from his brutal descent into hell. How did this educated young man from a good family, trained in the Jesuits, graduated from a French business school, endowed with experience in finance and setting up projects, who “abandoned” his first wife and his children in France to return to contribute to the development of its native country, was able to go from a sumptuous office in the munificent palace of the Cameroonian presidency to the cell of a military barracks. This confinement in a jail close to that of Edzoa, this “vermin” to whom he no longer speaks, will last 17 interminable years. How was he able to hold on in this small room without losing his sanity?
The machine has resolved to crush you. Either you cooperate or you will disappear ”
The answer is there, sitting at this table, a cup of strong coffee in her hand. Atangana is a complex man. Under its apparent fragility, hides an android with nerves of steel. You have to be endowed with a particularly deep inner labyrinth to have the strength to evoke such arbitrariness without raising your voice, without betraying a hint of anger or revealing an iota of resentment. It takes an unusual determination to bend one of the continent’s most brutal powers. This “inner strength” impressed François Hollande, who received him at the Elysee Palace after his release.
Hostage of justice, he will have lost everything: his mother, chief clerk at the Yaoundé tribunal de grande instance, suddenly became the “shame of the judicial family”, after thirty years of good and loyal service, “died of sorrow” for not having been able to save his son after having dedicated his life to saving so many strangers from this afflicting and infamous pain. This mother begging him to give in. “My son, we do not fight against the state. Even with the best of lawyers, you cannot win (…) Justice is a showdown. You are no match. The machine has resolved to crush you. Either you cooperate or you will disappear. “
I carry the burden of 17 years of a murdered life ”
Thanks to men and women from all walks of life, he was able to draw attention to his case and bend the system. He has been released, but is he free? Prisoner of a justice which has not exonerated him, he is in an ubiquitous situation. With his bank accounts sealed, with no income or work, seven years after his release, Atangana lives in zero gravity. “No matter how many people tell me ‘you’re free, that’s the most important thing’, you have to be recognized for your dignity and your rights to be free. Me, I live in a prison without bars, I live in having to endure a fault that I did not commit, I live without recognition, I live without reparation, I carry the burden of 17 years of a murdered life. I live locked outside ”.
Judicial hostage, 17 years in prison for nothing, by Thierry Michel Atangana, with Anna Véronique El Baze, Le Recherches-Midi, 224 pages, 18 euros.