The secessionist desires of two English-speaking provinces and the many excesses of the special units formed to fight urban crime continued to be sensitive issues in 2002. Several journalists who tackled them in a critical manner were threatened and fled the country for fear of more serious reprisals.
The good news was that Cameroonian courts increasingly imposed fines instead of prison sentences on journalists breaking the press laws. However, in some cases the size of the fine entailed a major financial burden for the newspaper and even threatened its survival.
The print media continued to be active and increase their presence in the provinces, even in isolated regions. In February, the privately-owned newspaper Mutations, which until then had appeared three times a week, became the country’s second daily newspaper, joining the state-owned Cameroon Tribune.
About a dozen privately-owned radio stations and several privately-owned TV stations now compete with the state-owned broadcasters. However, two years after broadcasting was opened to the private sector, these news media were still operating illegally as the authorities had not yet acted on their requests for accreditation. While the radio stations sometimes showed a degree of independence and criticism, the television stations just relayed government information and avoided controversy. The authorities threatened several radio stations with temporary or permanent closure and self-censorship became standard practice.
Communications minister Jacques Fame Ndongo accused the news media in September of "serious infringements" of professional ethics that could "disrupt public order by fostering a poisonous climate." He warned that the publication of false information was sanctioned by the penal code and that errant news media risked losing their licenses or having their assets seized. Press unions blamed the authorities for any infringements, pointing out that no press cards had been issued for the past 10 years.
A journalist imprisoned
Gendarmes arrested Georges Baongla, publisher of the weekly Le Démenti, at his home on 9 January 2002. Two days later, he was taken before a judge and jailed in Nkondengui prison in the capital Yaoundé. Gendarmes also seized the newspaper’s computer equipment. Baongla had previously been sentenced in absentia on 18 October 2001 to five years in prison and a fine of 17 million CFA francs (about 26,000 euros) for allegedly extorting 10 million CFA francs (about 15,200 euros) from an official at the ministry of economy and finance. The newspaper claimed that the authorities fabricated the accusation because it had run several articles accusing the ministry of embezzling funds from a sanitation project.
Four journalists arrested
Peter William Mandio, publisher of the weekly Le Front Indépendant, was detained on 1 March 2002 in Yaoundé and questioned about an article referring to an extra-marital relation between two senior presidential aides, which did not name the two persons but gave their ranks. Mandio was released the same day but was told to "remain available to the judicial authorities." He thought his arrest was linked to his participation in the National Committee against Impunity (CNI), a Cameroonian group responsible for a Belgian lawsuit accusing President Paul Biya of crimes against humanity. Jacques Blaise Mvié, publisher of La Nouvelle Presse, went into hiding to avoid arrest after he ran an article naming the two presidential aides.
Three soldiers detained Samuel Mben Mben, publisher of the magazine Habeas Corpus, on 10 March at Edea (60 km. from Douala) and beat him with a belt without giving any explanation. Mben said the incident was a response to his magazine’s frequent articles on human rights violations by the security forces.
More than a dozen policemen detained Haman Mana, publisher of the privately-owned daily Mutations, and Leger Ntiga, one of his editors, at the newspaper’s office in Yaoundé on 22 October and questioned them for two to three hours. Earlier the same day, the newspaper had published an article quoting unidentified police officers criticising poor training, corruption and indiscipline in the Cameroonian police.
A journalist physically attacked
Nyemb Popoli, publisher and cartoonist of the satirical biweekly Le Messager Popoli, was working on a story on the night of 30 November 2002 when he was detained by a dozen policemen from the Douala mobile intervention unit who took him to task about a caricature of President Paul Biya and his wife. They beat him and dragged him along the ground before releasing him.
Pressure and obstruction
When Pius Njawé, director general of Le Messager press group, arrived at Douala airport on 16 June 2002 at the end of a six-month stay in Britain, the frontier police officer at the immigration counter took his passport, ID card and driver’s license and gave them to the airport police superintendent, who refused to return them. The documents were finally returned to him three days later by the special superintendent for general intelligence. Njawé thought the authorities did this in order "to restrict my movements and keep a better eye on me" in the run-up to the elections.
The management of the privately-owned radio station RTS suspended one of its presenters, J. Rémy Ngono, at the request of the authorities on 24 September. No explanation was given. Ngono was the presenter of the hit programme "Kondré chaud," in which listeners commented on social issues.