On World Press Freedom Day and journalists' safety

By Courtney C. Radsch/CPJ Advocacy Director on May 1, 2015 10:54 AM ET

Last week, I met a Cameroonian journalist who worked in the Congo until he fled following a series of threats and an attack on his home by armed men who assaulted his sister. Elie Smith, a TV host who documented alleged abuses by police and was outspoken in his criticism of the government, said he thought he had been under surveillance and that he had received multiple threats via text message.

How can journalism thrive when journalists are being attacked for exposing abuses and corruption? When they are being killed and imprisoned in record numbers? When they are caught in a terror dynamic in which they are targeted by militants and censored by states purporting to respond to terrorism?

Two days ahead of World Press Freedom Day, I find myself asking this question because the theme of this year's official UNESCO-sponsored event is "Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age." Fundamental to the theme is that safety for men and women is part and parcel of a flourishing environment for the media.

World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity for journalists, news organizations, and human rights groups around the world to focus for one day on that which forms the basis of so many other rights and freedoms. The press does not refer simply to printed news but rather the function that journalism plays in a society--holding those in power to account, shedding light on terrorist groups and drug cartels that prefer to remain in the shadows, and informing citizens about their rights and how to exercise them. That is one reason why CrowdRise and The Huffington Post, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month, are featuring CPJ in their new campaign, "The Next 10"--highlighting our mission as one of the 10 causes that will shape the next decade.

As I write, I am headed to Latvia, where I will participate in the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event and try to highlight the inseparability of physical and digital security for journalists working in the 21st century. Elie Smith's case is emblematic--he reported being under surveillance before the attack and said his mobile phone was stolen by his assailants. From Beirut to Brussels, my colleagues will be focusing attention on the threats to journalism in Africa, press freedom in Europe, and new tools of repression in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, CPJ held an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit on the topic of fallen journalists. Journalists wrote asking where to get news industry-approved safety training and whether the threats to journalists in Syria, the most deadly country in the world for the press, extend to other places. Earlier in the week, we participated in a #muckedup Twitter chat on the same topic and got questions about resources for freelancers and about how people can help journalists under threat around the world. These questions underscore why the global safety principles and practices regarding freelancers, launched this year and endorsed by more than 60 media organizations and journalism groups, are critical. And why we translate resources like CPJ's Journalist Security Guide into so many languages, including Farsi and Somali, so we can reach local journalists on the ground.

Such questions also highlight the growing recognition that journalism has become one of the most dangerous vocations in the world, where people are murdered just for carrying out their work. That's why CPJ is supporting a moment of silence on May 3 as part of the #remembering fallen journalists campaign. And that is also why we have been highlighting the cases of nine imprisoned journalists with the Press Uncuffed: Free the Press campaign by students at the University of Maryland to raise awareness and take action. On May 4, the day after World Press Freedom Day, one of these journalists, Ammar Abdulrasool, will be in court to appeal his two-year sentence for participating in protests. You can add your voice to the growing chorus calling for his release.

For journalism to thrive, we have to cultivate the conditions in which journalists can report and work safely. We must enable the hundreds of journalists, like Elie, who have been forced into exile to escape threats and recrimination, to be able to return home.


Sharing this story on World Press Freedom Day.

November 10, 2005 I, Njaru Philip and Innocent Yuh, of the Ocean City Radio a private radio station were travelling from Kumba to Limbe in a fifty seater transport bus to attend a training course for Cameroonian Journalists organised by the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists,(CAMASEJ)in collaboration with the Knight International Press Fellowship of the International Centre for Journalists, Washington DC,USA.
At 8.30am our early morning bus was stopped at a police check point of the mobile intervention (GMI) Police officers from Buea.
Constable Olinga arrested us upon presentation of our press credentials.We were arrested without an arrest warrant.He tore the press credentials of Innocent.
He severely kicked me on my left leg at my chin bone and ordered me to sit on the ground.Over 10 heavily armed policemen held me on my coat,tie,hands and neck and wrestled with me for over 20 minutes to force me to sit on the ground which I resisted.
I read their names on their name tags and wrote down some of names on a piece of paper which was violently seized.
I later used my micro-tape recorder and recorded some of the names I had written on the seized paper.
Our arrest and my molestation by the heavily armed policemen embarrassed the over 40 passengers in the bus who had volunteered their time to wait for over thirty minutes with the hopes that the armed policemen would let us go but this never happened..The bus later left for Douala.

Constable Olinga used his mobile telephone and called the Southwest police boss Mr.Patrice Embollo Ambollo and informed him that the police have arrested and are detaining two Journalists of the Southern Cameroons National Council,SCNC who were in possession of a mobile radio which they are transmitting with.Under gun point they boundled us into a taxi with two heavily armed policemen escourting us.Enroute to the police station Constable Olinga made several attempts to search our luggage but I resisted insisting that they should present a search warrant which they did not have.On arrival at(GMI) Police Station under gun point we were boundled out of the car and some policemen were shouting that we must undress,must remove our shoes,that we must be tortured and beaten under the soles of our feet and be detained in the cell indefinately.

Constable Nyende Cyrille declared that "if he had intervened at the police check point where we were arrested he would have summarily killed us"adding that, " we are supposed to be killed". They seized our luggage including our tape recorders.They searched our luggages and manipulated our tape recorders.

An hour later we were forced under gun point into the taxi.While sitting in the taxi,I took my mobile phone and called Mr.Paul Nkemanyang to inform him of our arrest and detention.Immediately Constable Cyrille Nyende yanked the phone from my hand and rained very severe blows to my left ear and declared that the police would deal with us. He handed my seized phone to Constable Olinga with instructions that I must not be allowed to communicate.They whisked us off to the provincial police delegation.As I stepped out of the taxi I collapsed to the ground unconscious.Innocent ,Police constable Olinga and others rushed me in the same taxi to the government hospital,Buea where I was placed on medical treatment.
Constable Olinga worried by my unconscious state hurriedly gave my seized phone to Innocent.
At the hospital Innocent used my telephone and called an official of the US Embassy in Yaounde to inform him of the situation.As he was narrating what had happened, Constable Olinga yanked the telephone from Innocent ,then the commissioner for Special Branch (state secret security service), Mr.Tachuh Joseph arrested Innocent, held him by the neck,whisked him off and detained him incommunicado for seven hours,subjected him to long,tiring and intimidating interrogations before releasing him.
Mr.Tachuh recorded statements from Constable Olinga who said" We were in possession of the Southern Cameroons National Council,(SCNC) mobile radio and that we gave the radio which was in a bag to a female passenger in the bus who escaped with it to Douala."
At the hospital,Constable Olinga and others declared that we were "Les bandits de SCNC",(,Thieves of the SCNC)."That we were terrorists of the SCNC." **The Southern Cameroons National Council,SCNC is an organisation of the minority english speaking population advocating for the rights of self- determination from the present geo-political dispensation in the Cameroons.
After his release Innocent came to the hospital and met me on medical treatment .
At the hospital there was massive police deployment and several armed policemen came in to the ward several times with handcuffs demanding to rip off the drip set(infusion)from my arm and to take me and Innocent into detention.The nurses on duty put up a stiff resistance which paid off.
At 6.30pm 20 Journalists who closed at the course drove to the hospital and together with the Assistant Divisional Officer for Buea,Mr.Claude Azia Bukwara visited us in the ward.Among the Journalists were,Mr.Paul Nkemanyang, former national president of CAMASEJ, Mr.Charlie Ndi Chia,Editor In-Chief of The Post Newspaper and Executive Secretary of the Society for Development of Media in Africa,(SODEMA) and presently a member of the National Communication Council,(NCC)Mrs.Marilyn J.Greene, Knight International Fellow of the International Center For Journalists,Washington DC,USA and Mr.Joseph Junod vice president for Customer Program Newspaper Division Gannett, USA.

At 6.30pm 20 Journalists who closed at the course drove to the hospital and together with the Assistant Divisional Officer for Buea,Mr.Claude Azia Bukwara visited us in the ward.Among the Journalists were,Mr.Paul Nkemanyang,national president of CAMASEJ, Mr.Charlie Ndi Chia,Editor In-Chief of The Post Newspaper and Executive Secretary of the Society for Development of Media in Africa,(SODEMA),Mrs.Marilyn J.Greene, Knight International Fellow of the International Center For Journalists,Washington DC,USA and Mr.Joseph Junod vice president for Customer Program Newspaper Division Gannett, USA.

For the 8 days in hospital there was heavy police presence threatening to deal with us and several times they declared that we must immediately leave the hospital or else we shall face the consequences.

The Sub Divisional officer for Buea Mr.Claude Azia Bukwara told me that the Southwest police boss Mr.Pratrice said that the "entire administration of the Southwest province is panicking over a very little problem concerning two Journalists."
I received our seized luggage after 113 days despite making over 24 visits to meet the police boss who had asked us to come and get our arbitrarily confiscated luggage.
,CAMASEJ issued a press release strongly condemning the police actions.

The US State Departments 2006 Cameroon country reports on human rights states "November 10, police severely beat journalists Philip Njaru and Innocent Yuh at a police check point in Buea. The police accused them of being SCNC activists and of using radios as transmitters for the organization, despite the journalists' presentation of press credentials. The two men were hospitalized from their wounds. By year's end no official action had been taken against the police officers responsible for his injuries."

Seeking for justice.

I lodged several complaints to the Southwest attorney general in Buea, Mr.Mbah Ngwei Solomon,the national commission on human rights and freedoms,the minister of justice and delegate general for national security,as it would appear no investigations have been carried out,and the perpetrators enjoy immunity for impunity.Mr.Patrice Embollo was transfered to the South province.

Crimes against Journalists are crimes are against humanity.
For over a decade,I have been systematically persecuted by security officials and local authorities for reporting on corruption and human rights violations,but also the authorities have used my reports to sanction and also imprison some perpetrators.In 2006 Police Inspector Stephen Ngu was jailed for 5 years for setting Afu Bernard Weriwo suspected of having stolen a bicycle on fire by dousing him with kerosene and forcing him to drink kerosene in the course of interrogations.My eight hours evidence in court including a tape recorded testimony of the victim was used by the court to prosecute Mr.Ngu.
From my experiences there are no domestic remedies for persecuted Journalists as the judiciary seems to be greasing the wheels of the endemic culture of impunity against Journalists.
In UN HRC Decision,Communication No.1353/2005 Njaru Vs.Cameroon, Cameroon was condemned for torture,arbitrary arrests and detentions, death threats and failure to investigate.Interestingly non of my perpetrators have been prosecuted as recommended by the UN Human Rights Committee.
The judiciary speedily investigates cases of defamation brought against Journalists with heavy fines and imprisonment metted out so as to send a strong message to Journalists,"donot cross the redline".While investigating corruption within the Kumba Gendarmarie of extorting 25.000 fcfa as fee to release detainees on bail whereas bail is free,Adjudant Djombe Deschaniel filed a suit in 2007 against I and Innocent with the following charges,a)defamation,b)contempt c)false information.When the charges were read to me,the investigator said the senior divisional officer for Meme said that I must urgently give a document which they claimed I read over the radio which defamed the officer.But I refused to hand over the document and refused to give any statements saying that I will give my statement during the trial in court.The case is still pending in court.
Veteran Journalist and human rights defender,late Mr.Albert Mukong told me that"the laws in Cameroon are bad laws which donot protect human rights.But we must use these bad laws because they are the only laws we have.And it is only by consistently using these bad laws that we can force the authorities to change them".

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