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YAOUNDE - Cameroonian journalists are marking World Press Freedom Day with protests against abuse from the government as well as from rebels fighting for an independent English-speaking state. Reporters Without Borders, in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, ranks Cameroon 134th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Some Cameroonian journalists have been detained for their reporting or are on the run from the military or separatists.
This message from the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists, that journalism has rules, regulations and professional ethics, is broadcast on television and radio, and shared on social media platforms by journalists in Cameroon as a sign of protest against the abuses they face. The message insists that journalists be allowed freedom to practice.
"We say no to the constant harassment and haphazard arrest of journalists in their line of duties," the message said.
Journalists did not organize popular celebrations and public protests as in the previous years because of the more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 in Cameroon.
They said, however, they shared the pain of peers who have been in detention, such as Mancho Bibixy and Tsi Conrad, arrested and charged with insurrection against the state of Cameroon and who have been in detention since 2017, Samuel Wazizi arrested late last year and jailed for alleged collaboration with separatist fighters, and Wawa Jackson, who was arrested in 2019 and accused of propagating the secessionists' agenda in the English-speaking regions where separatists are fighting to break away from the majority French-speaking country.
Ngah Christian Mbipgo, publisher of Cameroon's lone English-language daily newspaper, the Guardian Post, said his news organ has been the victim of press abuses while covering the separatist crisis that has killed 3,000 people in Cameroon in the past three years. He said 15 of his reporters, newspaper vendors and their family members have fled from hostile areas in the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions.
"The separatists think that we have not been doing much to project their independence ideology, and that is why our reporters in the field are targeted. I have not gone out of Yaoundé [to the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions] since 2017 that [when] the crisis metamorphosed into an armed conflict because they have openly called to tell me that I am a target. We receive calls from top government officials who say we are a newspaper that is working for the separatists," he said.
Cameroon's government did not issue a statement on for World Press Freedom Day, as there were no public ceremonies due to COVID-19. However, the government has always maintained that there is press freedom in Cameroon and journalists are only arrested when they act unprofessionally.
Jude Viban, president of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists said the government should decriminalize media offenses and make sure abuses against the rights of journalists by government officials and separatist fighters are stopped.
"What we are doing is to inform, and we do so for the interest of the population, so a handful of people should not attack the press. When stories are not told because journalists are under attack, the population would not be informed, which, of course, is their right to be informed in a democracy like ours," said Viban.
Reporters Without Borders says press freedom continues its long decline in Cameroon, and reporters continue to be subjected to threats, attacks, intimidation and arrests after President Paul Biya's reelection for a seventh term in October 2018.