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Cameroon10 June 2008

Six journalists briefly arrested and TV programme interrupted for referring to sensitive subject

Reporters Without Borders warns the Cameroonian authorities of the dangers of allowing relations between the privately-owned press and government to deteriorate after a total of six journalists were briefly arrested last week for referring to a sensitive issue involving the president and a TV programme was cut short while being broadcast for the same reason two days ago.

“Arbitrarily interrupting a broadcast for raising a sensitive subject is incomprehensible and arrests, no matter how brief, are acts of intimidations” Reporters Without Borders said. “The use of coercive measures against journalists can only aggravate the climate and radicalise positions.”

The press freedom organisation points out the need for the authorities to respect the law if they expect journalists to do the same.

The weekly “Canal Presse” programme on privately-owned Canal 2 International was interrupted during the 17th minute on 8 June as the journalists participating were discussing last week’s arrests of their colleagues for referring to the so-called “Albatross” affair. Government representatives ordered the programme’s technicians and presenter to suspend the broadcast.

The Albatross is the name of an aircraft in poor condition which was bought for President Paul Biya for several of his close associates and which experienced a technical problem the first time he flew in it.

The “Canal Presse” programme was interrupted when reference was made to the arrests of Marie Noëlle Guichi and Jean-François Channon of the privately-owned newspaper Le Messager, who were detained by plain-clothes police on 3 June in Yaoundé and charged with “publishing the report of a judicial investigation that has not yet been tried” in a 26 May article about the Albatross. The charge is punishable by three months to two years in prison.

Four journalists and a political analyst were arrested by plain-clothes police in Douala for taking part in a debate about the Albatross affair on the “Cards on the table” programme on 1 June on privately-owned STV.

Presenter Thierry Ngogang (who is also STV’s news editor) and all of his guests - Canal 2 International director of international cooperation Anania Rabier Bindzi, freelance journalist Alex Gustave Azebazé, National Union of Journalists general secretary Jean Marc Soboth and Douala University professor Aboya Endong Manassé - were all questioned by police before being released.

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