Free expression is under threat in Cameroon, according to a report submitted this week to the UN Human Rights Council by PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Internet Sans Frontières.
Cameroon is a "perilous country in which to be a writer or journalist both on- and off-line," says the report, which spells out how the country, ruled by President Paul Biya since 1982, has used increasingly authoritarian measures to stifle writers, musicians, and the press. A host of draconian criminal laws punish writers and journalists for their work, including lengthy pre-trial detention in severely overcrowded prisons, routine torture, and a lack of a fair trial.
"Writers who express dissident opinion in Cameroon run a tremendous risk," explained Cathal Sheerin, Africa Researcher at PEN International. "Enoh Meyomesse, the founder of the Cameroon Writers Association, has been wallowing in Kondengui prison for 11 months, including one month spent in solitary confinement, despite having had all charges dropped against him." Meyomesse is currently on trial before a military tribunal, with minimal access to attorneys or medical care.
The government has also clamped down on the press with expensive and selectively enforced licensing laws for newspapers and publications.
"Investigating corruption and reporting on political unrest are punishable acts for Cameroonian journalists, leading to their detention and even death," explained Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Self-censorship is not a sustainable safety mechanism and undermines the right of citizens to independent, reliable information that empowers them to make vital decisions."
Threats to free expression persist online as well. Cameroon has censored or blocked Internet content and has privatized the enforcement of cybercrimes with no effective judicial review process. Less than 5 percent of citizens in Cameroon access the Internet because of firm state control over infrastructure and restrictive regulation, resulting in soaring costs for Internet Service Providers and users.
"The UN declared access to the Internet a human right and fundamental to personal and economic development. In Cameroon, the Internet is not available for everyone to use. The state's control of the Internet, and its restrictive monopoly on access to it, have hindered free contribution by users and prevented them from expressing themselves online," said Archippe Yepmou, President of Internet Sans Frontières.
Cameroon will be reviewed by the Human Rights Council in April and May 2013.