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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Cameroon

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Cameroon, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c564fc5.html [accessed 21 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Despite his recent election to the high-profile position as head of the Organization of African Unity, President Paul Biya has escalated his iron-fisted assault on the media, publicly proclaiming his intolerance for free speech in Cameroon. Sweeping opposition victories in the Jan. 21 local elections spurred Biya's crackdown on the independent press for its critical coverage of his ruling party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM).

The Organization for Freedom of the Press in Cameroon (OCALIP) was unsuccessful in its efforts to block parliament's passage of a harsh amendment to the country's already repressive media law. The amendment contains restrictive and complex licensing procedures, grants the CPDM indiscriminate authority to withdraw media licenses and impose post-publication censorship by seizing entire runs of "offending" editions, and expands its authority to ban newspapers. Newspapers that carry articles deemed to conflict with principles of public policy, endanger public order, or violate "acceptable" standards of good behavior are routinely banned and ordered to pay prohibitive fines intended to render them financially insolvent.

Cameroon remains one of the few countries in the world practicing pre-publication censorship. Official preventive censorship laws require all newspapers to submit their material to the Territorial Administration Service (TAS), the state censor, four hours prior to publication. Newspapers containing offending articles routinely appear on the newsstands with blank spaces, or not at all.

Journalists and their publications face a growing incidence of prosecution on libel charges such as defamation of the president, members of the National Assembly and other government officials in what appear to be little more than attempts to muzzle criticism of ruling party members. The severely compromised judiciary continues to allow serious legal irregularities in the prosecution of journalists – for example, the public prosecutor's office has filed libel charges against journalists prior to receiving the plaintiff's requisite written complaint.

Fearing police and government reprisals, many journalists practice self-censorship or go into hiding to avoid imprisonment. Police have assaulted news vendors, and authorities harass citizens caught reading banned publications.

Radio and television broadcasting remains under state control, and it is highly unlikely that President Biya will allow private ownership of the broadcast media in the coming year.

August
Paddy Mbawa, Cameroon Post, LEGAL ACTION

Mbawa, publisher of the independent Cameroon Post, was released from prison during the last week of August after serving 11 months of two consecutive six-month sentences. Mbawa was sentenced on July 13, 1995, for libeling an insurance company executive. The Cameroon Post alleged that the executive had embezzled money from the company.

August 8
Gaston Ekawalla, La Détente, LEGAL ACTION
La Détente, CENSORED

Ekawalla, a journalist with the newspaper La Détente, was sentenced to five months in prison and fined 1, 000 CFA (US$200) for defaming a member of Parliament, Albert Dzongang. The newspaper was suspended from publishing for six months. The verdict was in connection with an article in the Aug. 18, 1993, edition of La Détente, which said that Dzongang had been involved in an illegal network that was issuing false diplomatic passports. At year's end, Ekawalla had not started serving his sentence.

August 14
Pierre Essamba Essomba, Cameroon Tribune, HARASSED

Essomba, editorial director of the state-run daily Cameroon Tribune, was arrested in connection with an Aug. 12 article that was critical of Justice Minister Douala Moutome and Transportation Minister Issa Tchiroma. Essomba was released the same day.

August 20
Vianney Ombe Ndzana, Generation, ATTACKED

Ndzana, director of the privately owned newspaper Generation, was shot in Yaounde by several armed individuals who opened fire on his vehicle as he was leaving the newspaper's editorial offices. Ndzana was hospitalized for his injuries. He had escaped a similar attack on July 29 when a bystander saw the would-be assailants and warned Ndzana to get out of the way.

October 3
Pius Njawe, Le Messager Popoli, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Eyoum Ngangue, Le Messager Popoli, LEGAL ACTION

An appeals court for the Littoral region upheld the libel conviction of Njawe, publisher for the newspaper Le Messager Popoli, and Ngangue, a journalist with the paper. The two had been charged with insulting the president and members of the National Assembly and disseminating "false news." Their conviction was in connection with a satirical article in the December 1995 issue of Le Messager Popoli. Njawe was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a 100, 000 CFA (US$200) fine, and Ngangue to one year in prison and a 300, 000 CFA (US$600) fine. The sentences invalidated a Feb. 27 verdict from the Court of First Instance in Douala, under which the two had only been fined. Njawe was arrested on Oct. 29 by judicial police for the Littoral region and taken to judicial police headquarters, then transferred to New Bell prison in Douala. The court issued a warrant for Ngangue's arrest, but he has not been detained. In early November, Cameroon authorities refused to issue a visa to a representative of the World Association of Newspapers, who had been scheduled to visit Cameroon on Nov. 12-13 to meet with Njawe in prison and with government officials to discuss Njawe's case. Njawe was granted bail on Nov. 14 and released the next day. His Supreme Court appeal should be heard within a few months.

November 27
Evarisite Menouga, Le Nouvel Indépendant, IMPRISONED

Menouga, a reporter for Le Nouvel Indépendant, was detained for questioning at Yaounde police headquarters and later remanded into custody at the Yaounde gendarmerie. Authorities prohibited Menouga from meeting with his attorney and denied him visits from his family until Dec. 5. Menouga's interrogators pressured him to reveal his sources for various articles.

December 4
Peter William Mandio, Le Nouvel Indépendant, Le Front Indépendant, IMPRISONED

Military authorities arrested Mandio in connection with his Oct. 3 article in the weekly Le Nouvel Indépendant, which was critical of Minister of Public Works Jean Baptiste Bokam. Authorities placed Mandio in isolation at the Yaoude gendarmerie before transferring him Dec. 9 to a military center. Security forces questioned Mandio about information he had published in the weekly Le Front Indépendant, a newspaper Mandio founded on Oct. 8 during a temporary shutdown of Le Nouvel Indépendant. Mandio was released on Dec. 16.

December 10
Daniel Atangana, Le Front Indépendant, IMPRISONED

Police arrested Atangana, a journalist for the weekly Le Front Indépendant, in Douala. They took him to the gendarmerie in Yaounde and then to a detention center. The arrest was in connection with a Dec. 2 article in the newspaper that was critical of presidential guard commander Titus Ebogo.

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