Monday, April 22, 2019

Cameroon journalist moved to ‘dread’ New Bell prison

Cameroonian authorities have moved Ms Mimi Mefo, the journalist at privately-owned Equinoxe television and radio, to the dread New Bell prison in the commercial capital Douala, her employer confirmed.

The Equinoxe TV announced Thursday morning that Ms Mefo spent her first night at the Douala jail on Wednesday.

Ms Mefo is accused of propagating false news that jeopardises state security and of committing cyber crimes.

Her lawyer Alice Nkom said the journalist was handcuffed and escorted to New Bell prison after over eight hours of questioning at the military court in Douala Wednesday.

Remains elusive

Individuals and groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union (SNJC) and the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ), have condemned Ms Mefo’s continued confinement and called on authorities to immediately free her and allow her to do her job without fear.

The Cameroonian constitution guarantees the freedom of expression, and the country boasts of some 500 newspapers and 100 radio and television stations. However, genuine freedom of expression remains elusive, as the law gives officials the power to ban newspapers based on a claimed threat to public order. Defamation remains a criminal offence.

Widely criticised

The deteriorating security situation in the north and east, high youth unemployment and aging political leadership, since 2014 have conspired to hand the government the excuse to restrict journalists’ space.

Several of them have been arrested and detained, with some being targeted for critical reporting on topics including the health of the president and alleged embezzlement by government officials.

President Paul Biya signed a sweeping new antiterrorism law, a move widely criticised by the opposition, media, and civil society groups.

Of particular concern was the vagueness in the definition of “acts of terrorism”, which critics alleged left room for abuse to stifle independent thinking and dissent.

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