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-  Surface area: 475,440 sq. km
-  Population: 14,876,000
-  Languages: French and English (official)
-  Type of State: decentralised unitary republic

Cameroon - Annual report 2002

After a nine-year wait, privately-owned radio stations are now part of the Cameroon audiovisual scene. However, the government is still very sensitive to criticism from the private media and does not hesitate to arrest journalists.

For the first time in Cameroon and perhaps even in Africa, a journalist was paid compensation by the state for torture. In June 2001 Albert Mukong, journalist and human rights activist, received 137,000 dollars (roughly 155,000 euros) in damages from the Cameroon government for two arrests in 1988 and 1990. The United National Human Rights Committee had asked for this compensation from Cameroon in 1994, for the "particularly harsh and degrading" treatment to which the journalist had been subjected.

The Cameroon communication minister, Jacques Fame Ndongo, announced in May that equipment and consumer goods purchased for the media would be exempt from value-added tax. A ministerial communiqué explained that this measure was part of the government’s "communication renewal" policy. It concerns over 200 products, including paper, ink, computer equipment and telephony.

At the same time, the European parliament called for the opening of dialogue with the Cameroon authorities "with a view to shedding light on the human rights situation in that country". European members of parliament asked the government not to "hinder" the activities of human rights activists and local organisations.

About ten privately-owned radio stations are currently broadcasting in the country’s main towns after a nine-year wait for President Paul Biya to sign the enforcement order of the 1991 press law. Yet journalists working for these stations complain of constant threats and harassment. "Journalists with the state-owned media are given preferential treatment and the police do everything they can to stop us from working normally", commented the manager of a privately-owned radio station in Yaoundé.

Two journalists jailed

On the afternoon of 30 July about 20 gendarmes blocked off access to the newspaper Mutations for several hours, forcing the staff to remain inside. They said they were looking for the managing editor, Haman Mana, and confiscated 300 copies of the newspaper. The authorities accused him of publishing, in a special issue, the 21 statutory orders concerning reform of the army, signed by President Paul Biya on 26 July 2001. A communication ministry communiqué specified that four presidential orders published in Mutations were marked "defence secret" and were therefore "banned from publication". Mr. Mana went to the gendarmerie the next day, of his own accord, but refused to reveal his sources. He invoked the 19 December 1990 law on "freedom of social communication in Cameroon", Article 50 of which guarantees the protection of sources of information. The journalist was immediately held in custody and released on 3 August only. "I’ve got the impression I’ve just broken through the door to government information that was inaccessible to journalists of the independent press", said Haman Mana on his release.

Georges Baongla, journalist with the weekly Le Démenti, was arrested by gendarmes on 22 August for "publishing false news". This arrest followed publication of an article on 14 August in which he implicated the finance minister in an embezzlement affair. The gendarmes asked the journalist to reveal his sources. He was released a few days later.

Two journalists arrested

On 20 August 2001, Rémy Ngono, journalist with the privately-owned Radio Télévision Siantou (RTS) was manhandled by police officers. On his way home from a private dinner he was arrested and taken by force to the police station. The journalist was hit several times and released the next day only. He was accused of having a critical tone regarding the police in his daily programme "Coup franc".

The editor-in-chief of the independent tri-weekly La Nouvelle Expression, Jean-Marc Soboth, was summoned to the police station on 1 October 2001. He was accused of publishing an article on the reinforcement of security measures in the English-speaking provinces during the run-up to the fortieth anniversary of Cameroon’s reunification. The newspaper allegedly reported a confidential message from the state secretary of defence, Remy Ze Meka, to the armed forces in the areas concerned. According to the authorities, the newspaper violated a "defence secret". Jean-Marc Soboth was released at about 9 p.m. on the same day.

Two journalists attacked

In April 2001 Thomas Tankou, managing editor of the weekly Le Héraut, was assaulted by supporters of the ruling party. His dictaphone and camera and the sum of 200,000 CFA francs (about 300 euros) were confiscated.

On 8 December, Jean Vincent Djenga Mondo, reporter for Magic FM, was manhandled and threatened by agents of the DSP (presidential security police). The journalist was covering the third ordinary session of the heads of state of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and wanted to interview President Paul Biya. As he went up to the head of State DSP agents assaulted and threatened him until the head of the presidential cabinet intervened.

One journalist threatened

Michel Michaut Moussala, managing editor of the bi-weekly Aurore plus, said he was "taken hostage" during the night of 6 January 2001 by Douala police. The policemen allegedly forced him to give the names of the sources used in an article about embezzlement by police officers, published in the newspaper.

Pressure and obstruction

On 8 November 2001, with the opening of the new parliamentary session, journalists from several privately-owned publications (including Mutations, La Nouvelle Expression and Le Messager) were refused accreditation to cover the work of parliament.

On 15 November the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) denounced the suspension of the programme "Expression direct" broadcast on national television. Political parties represented in parliament were able to express their opinions on this programme.

africa countries list
1. Africa introduction
Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Cote d’Ivoire
D.R. Congo
Equatorial Guinea
Sierra Leone
South Africa

see also
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Asia annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002