Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the draconian sanctions that Cameroon's media regulator, the National Communication Council (CNC), has imposed on 22 media outlets. They include the permanent closure of two newspapers, whose publishers are now banned for life from working as journalists.
The CNC announced the sanctions in a communiqué published in the press on December 6. It said it had suspended 18 newspapers, one radio programme, and 27 newspaper publishers and reporters for periods ranging in most cases from six months to one year.
The sanctions constitute a very intimidatory message to Cameroon's media at a time of extreme social tension, in which several persons have been killed in clashes between demonstrators and police in the English-speaking part of the country.
In most cases, the grounds given by the CNC for imposing the sanctions was "publishing baseless, offensive and insinuating accusations" – in other words, defamation. The severest sanction, permanent closure, was reserved for L'Aurore (and its sister publication L'Aurore Plus) and the Dépêche du Cameroun.
After many months of judicial problems, Michel Mouchault Moussala, the publisher of L'Aurore and L'Aurore Plus, now finds himself banned from practicing journalism in Cameroon for the rest of his life. He has been a journalist for more than 35 years.
The victim of the other lifetime ban, Dépêche du Cameroun publisher Gilbert Avang, was defiant. "I learned that my newspaper and I had been suspended by reading it in the press," he said. "Neither I nor my lawyers have been officially notified. We will continue to publish until we have received an official notification of this decision."
"We are disturbed by these decisions, which are particularly severe and lacking in transparency," said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "With few exceptions, all these measures target opposition newspapers and benefit senior state officials or figures in spheres of interest linked to the government. We call on the CNC to adopt more transparent operating methods, which would help to legitimize its measures in the public's eyes."
In 2013, RSF already criticized the CNC's lack of transparency and the questionable methods it used to silence journalists.
Three journalists – Ahmed Abba, Rodrigue Tongue and Felix Cyriaque Ebolé-Bola – and journalism professor Baba Wame are currently being prosecuted before military courts under Cameroon's terrorism law on charges of failing to report terrorism to the authorities.
There is no evidence to support the charges, and the main effect of these productions is to curtail media freedom in Cameroon, which is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.