The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the deteriorating press freedom climate in Cameroon following the detention of three journalists from Cameroon's only independent daily, Mutations, and the closure of the private radio station Magic FM.
On April 13, the Société de presse et d'édition du Cameroun (Sopécam), a state-owned printing press, refused to publish the Monday, April 14, edition of the Yaoundé-based Mutations. Police later seized the computer disk containing that edition of the paper and detained two of the printer's employees for questioning.
Local sources said that the seizure of the disk was prompted by an extensive report on Your Excellency's succession titled, "After Biya: The Uncertainties of the End of His Rule," which was to appear in Monday's edition. The report discussed the possible political and ethnic turmoil that could ensue in the event of your retirement.
On April 14, police went to Mutations' offices and detained the newspaper's publisher, Haman Mana. Mana was released later that night and was told to return to the station the next day with the journalists who were responsible for the article.
On April 15, Mana, editor-in-chief Alain Blaise Batongué, and editor Emmanuel Gustave Samnick reported to the police station. The three were detained all day, questioned about the article, and released early that evening, journalists at Mutations said.
The newspaper was unable to publish on April 14 and 15. When officials found that Mutations' April 16 edition contained the same report, police began seizing copies of the paper from vendors as it appeared on the streets.
The harassment of the Mutations journalists follows the mid-March closure of the private radio station Magic FM. Authorities accuse the broadcaster of "insulting the president and state institutions," disseminating "false information," "calling for sedition," and "disturbing moral standards." Journalists in Yaoundé said that in the weeks before the station was shuttered, Magic FM had broadcast political debates and call-in shows during which listeners criticized Your Excellency's frequent trips abroad, your appointment of government officials to multiple posts, and government corruption.
In February, the government suspended the operation of two local television networks, RTA and Canal 2. Authorities claimed that the suspensions were for licensing violations, because the networks were only allowed to broadcast foreign-produced programs and had begun airing locally produced shows instead. Cameroonian journalists told CPJ they believe the licensing requirement was a pretext, and that the suspensions were related to the political nature of the local shows that the networks had broadcast.
The censorship of these news outlets, which are reporting on matters of legitimate public concern, and the harassment of journalists who are merely doing their jobs, is alarming. Although presidential elections are a year away, political activity is increasing. This trend of silencing any media that carry criticism of Your Excellency seems designed to intimidate the press and to stifle political debate.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we call on you to do everything in your power to see that authorities cease harassing journalists in reprisal for their work. We also urge you to allow Magic FM to restart broadcasts immediately.
Thank you for your attention in this matter. We await your reply.