Cameroonian journalists denounce separatists and military abuses on Press Freedom Day

Cameroonian journalists mark World Press Freedom Day (May 3) by calling on government troops and rebels to stop abusing journalists covering the separatist conflict. According to Cameroonian media groups, at least 80 journalists have fled the troubled western regions of the country due to threats to their safety.

Lambert Kehven, 36, is a baker in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.

But two years ago, he was a reporter in Cameroon’s North West region for Canal 2 International, one of the country’s main television channels, covering the separatist conflict.

Kehven says he decided to leave the area and his career after covering up an attack on a village that left dozens dead and homes burned.

But this was not to account for the brutality or violence that drove him to flee.

Kehven says he was ordered by Anglophone rebels and government troops to report lies.

“After being intimidated at gunpoint, the fighters ordered me to report that the houses had been burned down by the military,” he said. “When I finally arrived at the site where the houses were burnt down, the military also ordered me, they ordered me to report that the houses had been burnt down by the separatists.”

Kehven says separatists and government troops demanded to read his reports before they were published and threatened to kill him if he said anything negative about them.

The Cameroonian army and rebel fighters deny threatening or attacking journalists.

But the Union of Journalists of Cameroon says that since the start of the conflict in 2017, separatists have kidnapped 16 journalists and four of them have died in their custody.

Cameroonian authorities accuse the separatists of attacking 12 community radio stations in the western regions and forcing eight newspapers to close.

Meanwhile, the Cameroonian Association of English-Speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ) says government troops are detaining nine journalists who were covering in the regions.

According to CAMASEJ, at least 80 journalists fled the western regions, most to the cities of Douala, Yaoundé and Bafoussam.

Ngah Christian Mbipgo is the publisher of the only English-language daily in Cameroon The guard post and President of the Cameroon Association of English Language Publishers.

He says his association helps journalists fleeing threats from troops and rebels, also known as Ambazonian or Amba fighters.

“The first thing you need to do is talk to them, build them up psychologically, make them see the importance of regaining their confidence and healing their minds,” he said. “Sometimes we have gone so far as to provide medical assistance to those of them who have suffered one or two attacks from the military or Amba fighters. We have offered some of them offices at the Guardian post. They have internet access.”

In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists joined 26 groups in calling on Cameroonian President Paul Biya to release all those detained for freedom of expression, including four journalists.

Thomas Awah Junior, Mancho Bibixy, Tsi Conrad and Kingsley Fomunyuy Njoka were arrested between 2016 and 2020 and are being held in Kondengui central prison in Yaoundé.

The four journalists have been charged with terrorism and collaborating with separatists, charges they deny.

Despite the arrests, Communication Minister René Emmanuel Sadi says the media is free in Cameroon, but warns journalists against what he calls attempts to destroy the country’s image.

“The men and women of the media in Cameroon carry out their daily work with complete freedom and independence. However, incitement to violence and hostility against the homeland is not tolerable in a state of law and in a society freedom and responsibility,” he said.

Cameroon Association of English-Speaking Journalists on World Press Freedom Day called on rebel fighters and government forces to stop attacking journalists.

Separatists have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent English-speaking state in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon.

Anglophones in Cameroon complain of second-class treatment by the country’s French-speaking majority.

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