'Perilous' Cameroon fights back on rights abuse claims

Cameroon President Paul Biya
Cameroon President Paul Biya has been in power for 30 years. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Cameroon is fighting back claims that its human rights record is bleak ahead of a summons to appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council in April and May 2013.

The recent report submitted to the UN last week by media watchdogs PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists and Internet Sans Frontières says Cameroon is extremely unsafe for people whose opinions are different from those that are officially accepted.

Cameroon is a “perilous country in which to be a writer or journalist both on- and off-line,” says the report.

It adds that the country, ruled by President Paul Biya since 1982, has progressively used authoritarian measures to throttle writers, musicians, and the media.

Critics have accused the country of using draconian criminal laws to penalise voices of political dissent including lengthy pre-trial detentions in severely crowded jails, routine torture, and biased trials.

But Communication minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary at a media briefing Friday painted Cameroon with another brush, terming the claims by the groups are nonsensical.

Mr Tchiroma said “objective, verifiable and undisputed facts” show that no regime since colonial rule has fought for the growth of press freedom and media pluralism in Cameroon than President Paul Biya’s 30-year “New Deal” government.

"In Cameroon, anybody, writer or journalist, is free to express his opinions without fear” and “to adhere to any association, trade union or political party,” Mr Tchiroma said citing international conventions and national laws he said the country is committed to respecting.

Even though about 500 print media organs, over 100 radio stations, 17 television stations, more than 200 political parties and a litany of online media operate in Cameroon, the damning report says government regularly clamps down with expensive and selectively enforced licensing laws.

"Free expression online is also under threat and less than 5 per cent of citizens in Cameroon have access to the internet because of firm state control over infrastructure and restrictive regulation, resulting in soaring costs for Internet Service Providers and users," the organisations say.

"Cameroon has censored or blocked Internet content and has privatised the enforcement of cybercrimes with no effective judicial review process."

In 2011 the government suspended the use of microblogging site Twitter in an attempt to ward off opposition protests inspired by the Arab Spring.

After widespread international condemnation coup charges against writer and political activist Enoh Meyomesse were dropped.

But the writer, who was arrested in November 2011, still faces a trial before a military tribunal on charges of armed robbery.

He maintains the evidence against him is fabricated and that he is being persecuted because of his views and political activism.

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