Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Cameroon
As of December 31, 1998


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Local journalists and international observers reported extensively on the irregularities and fraud that marred the October 1997 elections, in which President Paul Biya consolidated power for the ruling Cameroon Democratic Movement (CPDM) and extended his 15-year tenure by another seven years. Not surprisingly, these elections failed to bring about greater freedom of expression, and journalists faced a variety of state reprisals for their critical coverage, including arbitrary detention on criminal defamation charges. In December, political satirist Nyemb Ntoogue, who said he had been given the choice in numerous death threats from anonymous individuals of "abandoning his career as journalist and death by machete," fled into exile.

Pius Njawe -- editor of the weekly Le Messager and a 1991 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award -- is the country's most beleaguered journalist. Since 1993, Njawe's publications, Le Messager and the satirical weekly Le Messager Popoli, have been banned and seized more than 13 times. Njawe has been arrested repeatedly, and he has faced legal action on charges ranging from defamation of the head of state to publishing unsourced information. In January, Njawe was sentenced to a two-year prison term for violation of the 1962 subversion law, despite pressure from local and international press freedom groups. The charges against Njawe stemmed from an article he had published in late 1997 reporting that Biya had suffered a heart attack while attending a soccer match.

Reporting on official corruption is a risk few journalists appear willing to take, and those who have dared to scrutinize the government have become targets for reprisal. In July, judicial police arrested the publication director of the privately owned magazine Le Jeune Detective in connection with an article that questioned the involvement of the Minister of Economy and Finance in the embezzlement of public funds.

While Cameroon is actively privatizing other state holdings, it has kept a virtual monopoly over broadcasting -- the most effective means of reaching a largely illiterate population. A few community radio stations launched operations in remote rural areas, taking advantage of the Law on Mass Communications, which allows for the creation of private broadcast media. But the dozen radio stations reaching the majority of the population remain under state control, as is the Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) station. Both state-owned and independent newspapers are available on the Internet.
Attacks on the Press in Cameroon in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
12/14/98 Nyemb Ntoogue, Le Messager - Popoli Threatened
11/12/98 Christopher Ezieh, The Herald Imprisoned
7/2/98 Patrick Tchouwa, Le Jeune Detective Legal Action
3/28/98 Aime Mathurin Moussi, La Plume du Jour Harassed
1/16/98 Samuel Eleme, La Détente Legal Action
1/13/98 Michel Michaut Moussala, Aurore Plus Imprisoned, Censored
1/13/98 Aurore Plus Legal Action
1/13/98 Pius Njawe, Le Messager Imprisoned, Threatened

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