Monday, January 19, 1998


(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 19 January 1998)

Pius Njawó, the internationally renowned and award-winning Editor-in-chief of Cameroon's leading independent weekly, Le Messager, is once again the victim of censorship. This latest incident involves a 26 December article published in Le Messager concerning the state of health of Cameroon's President, Paul Biya. On 13 January 1998, Njawó was sentenced to an exceptionally harsh two-year prison sentence and fine for "spreading false information". (For more information, see an Alert dated 14 January 1998 and published by the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX).)

The offending article, entitled "Is the President Sick?", was written by journalist Franck Essomba. It reported that President Biya may have suffered a heart attack during the Cameroon Cup soccer finals. The extreme terms of Njawó's prison sentence betray a total disregard for the principles of freedom of the press by the government of Cameroon. The court's heavy sentence of two years imprisonment and a CFA 500,000 (CDN $1,437) fine has also been criticized as excessive. Supporters of Njawó point to the fact that the article included an official denial of the allegations from the President's Office.

This is not the first time Njawó has spent time behind bars for his uncompromising commitment to freedom of expression. He has been involved in constant legal battles with the government since August 1995, when he was handed a deferred sentence of two months in prison (later overturned and replaced with a tougher sentence) and fined CFA 300,000 (CDN $862) for "abuse and slander" of Jean Fochive, the Chief of Police in Cameroon. The sentence stemmed from a 5 June 1995 article published in Le Messager accusing the higher echelons of the Cameroon Police of diverting millions of Cameroon francs. (See IFEX Alert dated 25 August 1995.)

On 3 October 1996 Njawó was again targeted by the authorities. This time he was sentenced to six months in jail and fined CFA 100,000 (CDN $287) for a 1 December 1995 editorial and two cartoons lampooning President Paul Biya's constitutional reform project. See IFEX Alert 30 dated November 1996.)

If you share the indignation of the international freedom of expression community at the patently unjust sentence handed out to Pius Njawó, you can make your opinion heard. By adding your voice to others who share strong convictions for freedom of expression, you can help pressure the Cameroon government to reverse the court's decision and ask that Pius Njawó be freed. Click here to access contact information for the President of Cameroon and to read a protest letter sent by the CCPJ.