Reporters Without Borders warned today that press freedom in Cameroon had sharply deteriorated with the arrest of Haman Mana, editor of the country’s only privately-owned daily paper, Mutations, and the seizure of the paper’s 14 April issue.
"For the past few months, the authorities have taken a tough line with the independent and opposition media, undoubtedly because of next year’s presidential election," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "Working conditions for journalists improved last year but now things are deteriorating and people fear a return to the very repressive period of the mid-1990s."
He urged President Paul Biya to do all he could to ensure the release of Mana, who was arrested at the paper’s offices in Yaounde on 14 April. He was not formally accused of anything, but the paper’s staff said the police mentioned that a complaint had been filed by the president’s office. Mana is being held at police headquarters in the city and is not allowed any visitors.
The previous night, the computer disk containing the next day’s issue of the paper was seized by police at the printers (Sopecam) on the orders of secretary of state for defence Remy Ze Maka. Two printing foremen, Moïse Moundi and Etienne Kenfack, were questioned for several hours at defence ministry offices and roughed up by police. Sopecam prints Cameroon’s two daily papers, Mutations and the government paper Cameroon Tribune.
The 14 April issue of Mutations (still available on the website www.quotidienmutations.net) contained an in-depth report on the succession to President Biya. The paper’s front-page headline was "After Biya: the uncertainties of a era that is ending." Shortly before he was arrested, Mana told Agence France-Presse that the report seemed to be reason for the seizure. Biya, in power since 1982, has not yet said whether he will stand in next year’s election.
Last month, Reporters Without Borders protested again the closure of two privately-owned TV stations, RTA and Canal 2, and the radio station Magic FM.