Country Summary

Despite his recent election to the high-profile position as head of the Organization of African Unity, President Paul Biya has escalated his iron-fisted assault on the media, publicly proclaiming his intolerance for free speech in Cameroon. Sweeping opposition victories in the Jan. 21 local elections spurred Biya’s crackdown on the independent press for its critical coverage of his ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM).

The Organization for Freedom of the Press in Cameroon (OCALIP) was unsuccessful in its efforts to block parliament’s passage of a harsh amendment to the country’s already repressive media law. The amendment contains restrictive and complex licensing procedures, grants the CPDM indiscriminate authority to withdraw media licenses and impose post-publication censorship by seizing entire runs of “offending” editions, and expands its authority to ban newspapers. Newspapers that carry articles deemed to conflict with principles of public policy, endanger public order, or violate “acceptable” standards of good behavior are routinely banned and ordered to pay prohibitive fines intended to render them financially insolvent.

Cameroon remains one of the few countries in the world practicing pre-publication censorship. Official preventive censorship laws require all newspapers to submit their material to the Territorial Administration Service (TAS), the state censor, four hours prior to publication. Newspapers containing offending articles routinely appear on the newsstands with blank spaces, or not at all.

Journalists and their publications face a growing incidence of prosecution on libel charges such as defamation of the president, members of the National Assembly and other government officials in what appear to be little more than attempts to muzzle criticism of ruling party members. The severely compromised judiciary continues to allow serious legal irregularities in the prosecution of journalists­for example, the public prosecutor’s office has filed libel charges against journalists prior to receiving the plaintiff’s requisite written complaint.

Fearing police and government reprisals, many journalists practice self-censorship or go into hiding to avoid imprisonment. Police have assaulted news vendors, and authorities harass citizens caught reading banned publications.

Radio and television broadcasting remains under state control, and it is highly unlikely that President Biya will allow private ownership of the broadcast media in the coming year.

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