The Committee to Protect Journalist, CPJ, has criticised the government of Cameroon over rampant cases of harassment and arrest of journalists, including a Nigerian journalist working with Hausa Service of Radio France International, Ahmed Abba.
CPJ called on the Confederation of African Football to withhold Cameroon’s right to host the 2019 African Cup of Nations until the country “releases all jailed journalists and ensures the free movement of the press” ahead of the tournament.
In a report released on Wednesday, CPJ said “Cameroon’s broadly worded anti-terror law is being used by authorities to arrest and threaten local journalists.”
CPJ called for the release of Mr. Abba and all jailed journalists, and for Cameroon to provide conducive environment for the media by revising the country’s 2014 anti-terrorism laws to ensure it cannot be used to jail journalists.
The organisation also demanded independent investigation into allegations that the intelligence service tortured RFI journalist Ahmed Abba in custody.
CPJ also demanded the decriminalisation of defamation and ensuring that security forces respect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The report, “Journalists Not Terrorists: In Cameroon, anti-terror legislation is used to silence critics and suppress dissent,” found that despite a presidential decree, ending legal proceedings against at least four journalists, the law that was used against them is still in place as next year’s elections approach.
The anti-terror law, enacted to counter the extremist Boko Haram,according to the press freedom organisation, “has been used to silence journalists who report on the militant group, or on civil unrest in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions”.
“Journalists arrested under the act, including Radio France Internationale broadcaster and CPJ International Press Freedom Award honoree Ahmed Abba, face military tribunal and harsh sentences, including potentially the death penalty.
“Abba is currently serving a 10-year sentence. Several journalists interviewed for the report said that Cameroon’s crackdown on the press has left them too scared to cover politics or sensitive issues.” the CPJ added.
CPJ Africa Program Director, Angela Quintal, said “Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press”. According to her, “When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal. Cameroon must amend its laws and stop subjecting journalists–who are civilians–to military trial.”
CPJ further called on the UN and African Union’s special rapporteurs on freedom of expression to independently investigate press freedom conditions in Cameroon in advance of the country’s Universal Periodic Review.
It also urged the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate “the arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention of journalists in Cameroon”.
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