Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly.
Freedom of Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions, the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse. Many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty when obtaining approval to organize public gatherings.
In the early hours of February 23, police surrounded CRM headquarters in the Odza neighborhood of Yaounde and the New-Deido in Douala to prevent prospective activists from registering with the party. In other cities, such as Bafoussam and Mbouda in the West Region, security forces disrupted the registration process and arrested CRM activists. In Bafoussam, police seized CRM’s campaign truck and detained it along with its driver. On April 30, Zacheus Bakoma, the divisional officer for Douala 5, ordered a 90-day provisional closure of the Mtieki community hall after the CRM used the hall as a venue for a meeting on April 28.
Press and Media, including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed diverse views. This landscape, however, included restrictions on editorial independence, in part due to stated security concerns related to the fight against Boko Haram, the Anglophone crisis, and the postelectoral crisis. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters. According to the 2018 Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, the re-election of President Biya for a seventh term of office was accompanied by multiple instances of intimidation, attacks, and arrests of journalists.
Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists for their reporting. Journalists were arrested in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis. According to reports by multiple organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), police arrested Pidgin news anchor Samuel Wazizi, who worked for the Buea-based independent station Chillen Muzik and Television. The arrest occurred on August 2 in Buea, Southwest Region. Police initially held Wazizi at the Buea police station and subsequently handed him over to the military, who detained him on August 7 without access to his lawyer or family. As of late November, he was presumed to still be in detention.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Under a 1990 law, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council (NCC) had suspended them previously. In February the NCC issued a press release calling on journalists to be professional in their publications. The release was in reaction to media coverage following the January 26 protests called for by CRM, the arrests of hundreds of activists, including Maurice Kamto, and the ransacking of the Cameroonian embassy in Paris by anti-President Biya protesters. The NCC chairman indicated that the government had informed all professional media about the facts through official procedures and regretted that some press organizations continued to spread opinion contrary to government’s position, thereby maintaining confusion.
At its 23rd ordinary session, the NCC issued warning notices in 21 media regulation cases. The charges stated that the groups engaged in practices contrary to professional ethics, social cohesion, and national integration.
In a July 20 meeting with 100 private media outlet managers, Minister of Communications Rene Sadi chided Cameroon’s private media for abandoning its duty to “inform, educate, and entertain” by publishing articles that “sowed divisiveness and promoted tribalism.” He accused the private press of “playing politics under the influence of journalistic cover.” As of year’s end, no private television or radio station held a valid broadcasting license. Although the few that could afford the licensing fee made good-faith efforts to obtain accreditation, the ministry had not issued or renewed licenses since 2007. The high financial barriers coupled with bureaucratic hurdles rendered Cameroonian private media’s very existence illegal.
Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by libel laws that authorize the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines.
National Security: Authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government. During a security meeting in Douala on August 9, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji called on the representatives of NGOs and media professionals to be responsible, contribute their own quota to nation building, and avoid derogatory language that discredits government actions. Atanga Nji said many media houses in Douala organized weekly debates in order to sabotage government actions and promote secessionist tendencies. He urged private media organizations to exercise responsibility when carrying out their activities, warning them to construct, not destroy, the nation. He called on opposition political parties to respect the law and not to force his hand to suspend them. The minister also warned NGOs to respect the contract they signed with his ministry or be suspended.
Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for the press. In an August 13 online post, Moki Edwin Kindzeka, a Yaounde-based journalist, said it was becoming impossible for journalists to practice their profession, because they faced pressure from both separatist fighters and the government. The article was in reaction to Atanga Nji’s August 9 statements.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights. Growing concerns over the entry of armed groups into Cameroon from the Central African Republic (CAR) and the conflict with Boko Haram in the Far North Region appeared to have prompted the government to adopt a more restrictive approach to refugee movement. The government made it more difficult for refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons to move freely in the country.
In some instances, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government sometimes failed to respect its obligations under relevant international laws. There were instances where it forcibly returned asylum seekers to their countries and did not readily provide humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations access to asylum seekers before refouling them.
In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police and gendarmes at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways often extorted bribes and harassed travelers. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Unaccompanied women were frequently harassed when traveling alone. Authorities restricted movements of persons and goods, including motorbikes, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, citing security concerns. Armed Anglophone separatists also restricted the movements of persons and goods in the two Anglophone regions, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate the local population. Humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities.
On June 14, Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique of the Northwest Region lifted the curfew placed in the region since November 2018. The curfew, which lasted eight months, restricted movement of persons and property in the Northwest Region between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape. In a report on the Northwest and Southwest Regions, OCHA revealed that it had recorded 74 cases of rape as of July 21, with only 13 victims being able to obtain health-care services due to the absence of services in their localities.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines. OCHA recorded 785 cases of gender-based violence in July.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons, and the 2016 penal code prohibits genital mutilation. Perpetrators are subject to a prison sentence of from 10 to 20 years, or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death. FGM/C remained a problem, but its prevalence was low. As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.
In 2018 the minister of women’s empowerment and the family said the government fully adopted a UN General Assembly resolution on the intensification of the global action aimed at eliminating FGM/C and had been carrying out initiatives to end FGM/C for more than 10 years. These initiatives included granting support for male and female excision practitioners to change professions and creating local committees to fight against the phenomenon in areas of high prevalence, such as the Southwest and North Regions.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home. To protect women better, including widows, the government included provisions in the 2016 penal code outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse. The practice of widow rites, by which widows forgo certain activities such as bathing or freedom of movement, was also prevalent in some parts of the country, including in some rural communities of the West Region.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders can be imprisoned for periods of six months to one year and may be fined between 100,000 and one million CFA francs ($170 and $1,700). If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be one to three years in prison. If the offender is the victim’s teacher, to the penalty can increase to three to five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread, and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment. This was partially due to sexual harassment victims’ reluctance to file official complaints.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men. In practice, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, or housing. Although women and men have equal employment rights, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.