Lobby group faults Cameroon media law

Cameroon's Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent Ahmed Abba. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Authorities in Cameroon are using an anti-terrorism law to intimidate journalists in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

CPJ disclosed in a new report published on Wednesday that the controversial legislation was passed in 2014 to counter the Boko Haram militants.

However, it pointed out, the Cameroon government was now using the law to silence journalists who report on the activities of the group, unrest in the English-speaking regions or who were critical of President Paul Biya’s administration.

The report; Journalists Not Terrorists: In Cameroon, anti-terror legislation is used to silence critics and suppress dissent, said journalists had been arrested under the Act, including Ahmed Abba of Radio France Internationale (RFI).

The RFI correspondent is currently serving a 10-year jail sentence.

Faced charges

In addition to Abba, CPJ said it was aware of at least four other journalists who faced charges under the 2014 anti-terror law for their reporting, who were detained until August 30 when a presidential decree secured their release.

Mr Atia Tilarious Azohnwi, the political editor of The Sun; Mr Hans Achomba, a documentary filmmaker; and Mr Tim Finnian, the publisher and editor of the weekly Life Time, had spent several months in jail.

“All of them faced trial before a military court and, if convicted, they would have faced the death penalty,” the report authored by CPJ Africa Programme Director Angela Quintal said.

The report said journalists in Cameroon were ‘too scared to cover politics or sensitive issues’ because of the crackdown which deepened late last year amid the unrest in the English-speaking regions.

Stifling of criticism

“There is an atmosphere of fear. You don’t report about the issue of federalism [or] all those issues that are considered to be unfriendly to the regime – even if they are true,” a Cameroonian journalist, who asked not to be named, told CPJ.

At the time of filing this report, Yaoundé had yet to officially react to the CPJ report.

Cameroon is rated “not free” on the 2017 Press Freedom and Political Rights Index of Freedom House.

“With elections scheduled for next year, and Cameroon due to host the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament in 2019, the stifling of criticism, including through the anti-terror law, was likely to come under increased international scrutiny,” Ms Quintal said.

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