Although the law provides for freedom of speech and press, it also criminalizes media offenses, and the government restricted freedoms of speech and press during the year. Government officials threatened, harassed, arrested, and denied equal treatment to individuals or organizations that criticized government policies or expressed views at odds with government policy.
Freedom of Speech: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately sometimes faced reprisals. The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings.
On January 26, the vice chancellor of the University of Buea in the Southwest Region suspended Stanley Eyongetta Njieassam, a student leader, for criticizing the vice chancellor and challenging government policies. The suspension was lifted on February 26.
On April 29, author Bertrand Teyou, who was arrested twice in 2010 for publicly criticizing the president, was released from prison after paying a fine. In March 2010 gendarmes arrested and detained Teyou for talking about the president in “insidious terms” during the dedication ceremony of his book The Antecode Biya. Teyou subsequently was charged with conspiracy, incitement to rebellion, attempt to disturb public order, and perilous activity. Teyou, who was detained for eight days, was again arrested and detained in November 2010 in connection with the release of another book. The Douala Court of First Instance found Teyou guilty of defamation, insult, and illegal protest, and sentenced him to pay a fine of two million CFA francs ($4,000). Teyou, who could not pay the fine, remained in jail until his April release.
Freedom of Press: Approximately 400 privately owned newspapers published during the year, but only an estimated 25 had sufficient funds to publish regularly. The government enforced media regulations irregularly, often implementing arduous requirements selectively for regime critics. The government continued to disburse official funds to support private press outlets, although it disbursed funds selectively to outlets that were less critical of the government and with instructions to provide reporting favorable to the regime. Government officials used expansive libel laws to arraign journalists who criticized them and to suspend newspapers. Privately owned media were not accredited with the president’s or prime minister’s offices and were not invited to accompany the president on official trips.
After its September 26 to October 2 visit to the country, Reporters Without Borders noted that the law confuses media offenses with common crimes, gives too much power to political and administrative officials, and does not provide enough protection for access to information and the confidentiality of sources.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, arrested, and abused journalists during the year. In a statement published on March 31, the National Syndicate of Cameroon Journalists (SNJC) denounced the sustained harassment and moral pressure of which journalists had been the victims since the beginning of the year. SNJC called on the government to respect the public liberties of citizens provided for in the constitution. On March 9, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote a letter to President Biya expressing concern about ongoing abuses against press freedom. The CPJ called on the president to hold members of his administration accountable for using security forces and criminal laws to settle scores with the media and urged the president to initiate reforms that would refer matters of defamation to civil courts.
On January 20, in Ebolowa, Mvila Division, South Region, Police Commissioner Evina assaulted and beat Rodrique Tongue, a journalist working for Le Messager newspaper. Reasons for the assault were unclear. No action was undertaken against the commissioner.
On September 16, police from the Special Group for Operations seriously beat and injured Ulrich Fabien Ateba Biwole, a journalist of Le Jour newspaper, in the Yaounde neighborhood of Anguissa. Ateba Biwole was inquiring about a group of citizens escorted in the street by armed men in civilian attire. The armed men, who Ateba Biwole later learned were police officers, attacked him when they learned he was a journalist.
Journalists also were arrested and detained.
On March 30, security officers arrested and detained incommunicado Lamissia Aldorarc, the Adamoua Region correspondent of the Yaounde-based daily Le Jour. Aldorarc, who was investigating an alleged armed rebellion attempt, was held for several days in the DGRE Adamaoua Region office.
On September 5, police arrested Francois Fogno Fotso, editor of the private bimonthly Generation Libre, which in October 2010 had published an article detailing alleged corruption by a tax official. From September 5 to 9, Fotso was interrogated without the presence of a lawyer and pressured to identify the sources for the article. On September 9, Fotso was taken to court but not charged, and subsequently returned to the custody of military police in Yaounde. Fotso had been summoned four times by military police since the October 2010 article, but refused to comply with their demands. In a public statement, the Association of Patriot Journalists of Cameroon criticized what it called an “arbitrary arrest of a journalist who dared do his job.”
Security forces also arrested and detained Cameroonian journalists representing foreign media outlets.
For example, on February 23, gendarmes of the Mboppi gendarmerie brigade in Douala arrested and detained incommunicado for 24 hours Reinnier Kaze, the correspondent of Agence France Press. Kaze was reporting on an anti-Biya march in Douala. The gendarmes also arrested several other journalists on the same occasion, including the reporting team of Vox Africa, a pan-African television service.
Radio remained the most important medium and reached most citizens. There were approximately 375 privately owned radio stations operating in the country, three-fourths of them in Yaounde and Douala. The government required nonprofit rural radio stations to submit applications to broadcast, but they were exempt from licensing fees. Commercial radio and television broadcasters must submit a licensing application and pay an application fee with the application. After a license is issued, stations must pay an annual licensing fee, which was expensive for some stations. Although the government did not issue new broadcast licenses during the year, companies operated without them under a government policy of administrative tolerance.
Several rural community radio stations functioned with funding from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and foreign countries. The government prohibited these stations from discussing politics.
Television had lower levels of penetration than print media but was more influential in shaping public opinion in urban areas. There was one private cable television network. The 19 independent television stations skirted criticism of the government, although their news broadcasts sometimes focused on poverty, unemployment, and poor education, pointing to the role of government neglect and corruption. The state-owned Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) broadcast on both television and radio. The government levied taxes to finance CRTV programming, which gave the station a distinct advantage over independent broadcasters.
The government was the largest advertiser in the country. Some private media enterprises reported government officials used the promise of advertising (or the threat of withholding it) to influence reporting of the government’s activities.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship.
Libel Laws: Press freedom is constrained by strict libel laws that suppress criticism. These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president and other high government officials. Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant. Government officials abused this law to keep local journalists from reporting on corruption and abusive behavior.
For example, on March 24, the Douala-Ndokoti first instance court sentenced Jean Marie Tchatchouang, publisher of Parole newspaper, to a suspended six-month prison term and damages of one million CFA francs ($2,000) to be paid to Ernest Ngalle, the general manager of Socatur, a Douala-based bus company, for alleged libel against the general manager. From September to December 2010, Tchatchouang published a number of articles that accused Ngalle of embezzlement. The court also suspended the newspaper for an undetermined period of time.