Update! Cameroon journalist released on parole

Thursday, November 14, 1996

CAMEROON JOURNALIST PIUS NJAWE GRANTED BAIL

(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 14 November 1996)

Reporters sans frontières reports that Cameroon publisher Pius Njawe was granted bail on 14 November. His release was expected by 15 November. His Supreme Court appeal of the conviction has yet to be heard. He is still under threat of imprisonment pending his appeal of the charges.

Background

The private press in the West African nation of Cameroon has struggled to defy the iron grip of President Paul Biya, and this means they often pay a heavy price. No one more so than Pius Njawe, editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Le Messager and the cartoon supplement Le Messager Popoli. His paper has been seized many times, his life has been threatened, and on October 18, he was arrested and detained at the Cameroon airport upon his return from South Africa where he had attended a conference of the Commonwealth Press Union.

He was released, but arrested once again on 29 October and detained at the New-Bell prison.

Njawe's problems go back to December 1994 when he received death threats after publishing a story revealing the existence of the Liberation Organization of the Cameroonian People. "We'll blow your brains out," an anonymous caller told him.

In January 1995 over 8000 copies of Le Messager were seized by police in what was regarded as an attempt by authorities to block publication of a feature titled "After the 1994 fiasco, 1995. It's make or break." When asked why this was done, the governor of the province said it was well known that the paper insults President Biya, "and it will be seized every time it insults the President."

Njawa was arrested in August 1995 for failing to comply with pre-publication censorship.

His latest trouble began when on October 3 of this year the courts sentenced Njawe and fellow Le Messager journalist Eyoum Ngangue to six months in prison and a US$200 fine and one year in prison and a US$600 fine respectively. The court issued a warrant for their arrest for abusing/insulting the President and members of the National Assembly and for disseminating "false news" for publishing a satirical article in December 1995. The latest charges invalidated an earlier ruling in which the two were given fines only.

According to the World Association of Newspapers, the prosecution was undertaken without any complaint being issued by the President or members of the National Assembly:

" Under the law, such statements are necessary for alleged abuses made via the press. The appeal of the February decision was launched in a similar manner by the prosecution, which called for prison terms for the two. "

Former Minister of Justice Douala Moutomé threatened the judge who pronounced the February verdict with disciplinary action, saying he received his orders form "high up" to rectify the matter.

Cameroon is one of the few countries where pre-publication censorship still officially exists. All newspapers must submit their content to the state censor four hours before publication.

Sources: RSF, WPFC, FIEJ