A Radio France Internationale correspondent was violently beaten by police and several journalists had their equipment seized during a banned opposition demonstration in Cameroon. Reporters Without Borders condemns the violent methods used by the police and urges the authorities to punish those responsible.
RSF spoke to the journalist, Polycarpe Essomba, as he was on his way to hospital on Wednesday to seek treatment for a headache and pains in his feet caused by the police beating a day earlier as he attended the opposition demonstration, which had been banned by the authorities.
He said he had taken refuge in a small shop to prepare a live broadcast planned for midday when several police officers questioned him. He received a violent blow on the back of his neck and his equipment was searched and confiscated. The police took him to several different police stations before returning his personal effects the end of the day. "They looked at the photos I had taken and tried to work out who my sources were," he said
Several journalists were prevented from carrying out their work. Agence France-Presse correspondent Reinnier Kaze was also detained at the same place and had his equipment seized. An assault by police on Rodrigue Ngassi, a cameraman with Équinoxe TV, was captured on camera. The images show him with several bruises and torn clothing after his arrest.
Lindovi Ndjio, a journalist with the newspaper la Nouvelle Expression, and William Omer Tchuisseu of the daily La Voix du Centre, were forced to leave the area in order to avoid suffering the same fate as their colleagues.
"Cameroon's main towns have been locked down for several days, in some cases using armoured vehicles," one journalist told RSF. "Opposition politicians have been prevented from leaving their homes and journalists from covering the demonstration."
"A volatile political climate, journalists assaulted, arrested or prevented from doing their job - a series of events we've seen all too often in Cameroon," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "Journalists are often lumped in with those behind the unrest, although they are trying to do their job by faithfully recording the events they witness. "These reporters have committed no offence and the actions of the security forces have nothing do with maintaining order. The heavy-handed methods they use are solely aimed at intimidating the journalists and censuring an event that the authorities find disturbing. The perpetrators must be punished."
Several journalists were arrested and assaulted during the presidential election in 2018, as documented by RSF at the time. A few months earlier, the Hausa-language Radio France Internationale correspondent, Ahmed Abba, was released after spending 29 months in prison. He had been arrested on fabricated charges of terrorism and was forced to leave the country for his own safety after his release.
In view of the extent and growing frequency of gross violations of press freedom in recent months, RSF has stepped up warnings and referrals to international organizations. Last month the press freedom organization asked three UN special rapporteurs to investigate the death in military custody of the journalist Samuel Wazizi, which was announced by the authorities more than 10 months after he had been secretly detained.
RSF is also campaigning for the release of several journalists detained in the country, including the former managing director of the state broadcaster CRTV, Amadou Vamoulké, held without trial for more than four years, and freelance reporter Kingsley Fumunyuy Njoka who was accused of secessionism and placed in provisional detention for six months.
Cameroon has fallen 14 places since 2013 in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by RSF and is ranked 134th of 180 countries in the 2020 edition.