Freedom of the Press 2007

The constitution provides for freedom of the press and of speech, but the government restricts these rights in practice. Criminal libel laws are used regularly to silence criticisms of the state and government officials. Although much of the independent press did persist in reporting critically about the government in 2006, a number of critics were prosecuted under the libel laws, and the threat of prosecution led many, particularly within the broadcast media, to self-censor their material. The most high-profile instance of such criminal libel convictions was when a number of newspapers published a list of supposed “secret homosexuals” within the government in January and February. Although this list was potentially offensive and insulting, the punishments of imprisonment and exorbitant fines that were handed out were disproportionate to the crimes committed. In March, Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, publisher of L’Anecdote, was sentenced to four months in prison and a US$2,000 fine, while Ayissi Biloa, publisher of Nouvelle Afrique, was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay a total of US$6,000 in damages to two separate plaintiffs. Separately, many other journalists were convicted of libel by the courts; most received suspended prison sentences. These included Dieudonne Mveng, publisher of La Meteo; Socrate Dipanda, publisher of Le Constat; Peter William Mandio, publisher of Le Front; Henriette Ekwe, a Le Front columnist; and Georges Gilbert Baongla, publisher of Le Dementi. Journalists were arbitrarily arrested, detained, harassed, intimidated, and physically abused in 2006, while some publications were confiscated by the state. In January, unidentified assailants set fire to Freedom FM, a private radio station that had yet to begin operations. In 2003, the government had originally forced the station to close before it ever began operating and refused to lift the ban until 2005. In November, after receiving numerous threats leading up to a radio show asking listeners to offer their opinion about the Paul Biya regime, Agnes Taile, host of the popular program on the local Sweet FM, was abducted from her home, beaten, and left for dead. Other instances of harassment of journalists included the illegal five-day detention of Duke Atangana Etotogo, managing editor of L’Afrique Centrale, by the military security services in September after he published articles addressing corruption and incompetence within the army. There are about 25 regularly published newspapers; among them are the privately operating Mutations, La Nouvelle Expression, and Le Messager, as well as the state’s Cameroon Tribune, which toes the government line in the majority of its coverage. Many of the private papers freely criticize government policies and report on controversial issues, including corruption, human rights abuses, homosexuality, and economic policies. Distribution problems and high government tariffs on production ensure that newspapers remain a uniquely urban phenomenon. There are about 20 privately owned broadcast stations; among them, 5 are television stations. The state-owned CRTV broadcasts on both television and radio and was the only officially recognized and fully licensed broadcaster in the country. In general, the broadcast media are tightly controlled by the government, and discussion or advocacy of secession is strictly prohibited. Several rural community radio stations were established by UNESCO in 2006, though they are all limited in the range of their broadcast capacity and prohibited from discussing politics at all. Foreign broadcasters, including the British Broadcasting Corporation and Radio France Internationale, are permitted to operate within Cameroon, but they must partner with the state-owned CRTV. Despite the signing into law of the National Anticorruption Commission, corruption is rampant in numerous sectors of the media; many journalists expect and accept payment from politicians for writing articles containing unsubstantiated allegations against their opponents. Access to the internet is not limited by the government, although slow connections and high fees at cybercafés serve to restrict access to only 1.5 percent of the population.