2 June 1998


HRW calls for immediate release of imprisoned Cameroonian journalist

Incident details

Pius Njawe



(HRW/IFEX) - In a letter sent to the president of Cameroon on 2 June 1998,
HRW welcomed his call to resolve the case of a wrongfully-imprisoned
journalist. Pius Njawe, of "Le Messager", was convicted of "spreading false
information" after he published an article raising the possibility that
President Paul Biya had suffered heart trouble during his absence from a
soccer match. Njawe has been in prison in Douala since his arrest on 24
December 1997. His 13 January 1998 sentence to two years and 500,000 CFA
francs was reduced on 14 April by a court of appeal to one year and 300,000
CFA francs, but the court of appeal upheld his conviction.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 14 April, 26 March, 20 February, and 20, 14 and 13
January 1998**
"Cameroon has a history of repressing freedom of the press," said Peter
Takirambudde, executive director for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "The
government of Cameroon must protect the right of Pius Njawe and all
journalists to express themselves freely. We call for Mr. Njawe's immediate
and unconditional release."

On Friday, 29 May 1998, authorities reportedly arrested Aime Mathurin
Moussi, editor of "La Plume du Jour" (see IFEX alert of 1 June 1998). Prior
to this, fifteen journalists had been arrested in Cameroon during the past
two years, according to the organization Reporters Sans Frontieres. Three
journalists were convicted of defamation within a few weeks of Njawe's
sentencing in January. Some thirty cases have been brought against "Le
Messager" since 1990, most of which were initiated by the government. The
remaining cases were brought by individual government officials. To this,
Mr. Njawe commented, "This looks like deliberate harassment, if not
relentless persecution."

A copy of the letter follows.

June 2, 1998

H.E. President Paul Biya


Republic of Cameroon

Re: The imprisonment of Pius Njawe

Your Excellency:

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based human rights organization, welcomes
your 5 May call for a proper resolution of the case of Pius Njawe, editor of
"Le Messager" newspaper in Cameroon, and asks that the Cameroonian
government follow up with his immediate and unconditional release from

Pius Njawe's conviction of "spreading false news" violated his
internationally recognized right to freedom of expression. As you are aware,
Mr. Njawe was charged, convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment and
a 500,000 CFA franc fine after publishing an article which merely raised the
possibility that you had suffered heart trouble during your absence from a
football (soccer) match on 21 December 1997. He based his report on an
investigation by his "Le Messager" staff and the statements of three
witnesses of your alleged heart incident and made no conclusion on the
veracity of their statements.

"Le Messager" subsequently published the government's denial of your
illness. In publishing the article, Mr. Njawe was simply exercising his
right to impart information, in accordance with Article 19 of the
International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Cameroon is a
party. The reduction of his sentence by a Douala appeals court is
insufficient in correcting this unjust imprisonment.

In addition, Mr. Njawe has recently been denied his right to due process.
The judgment handed down on 14 April by the court of appeal was not released
until mid-May. This temporarily prevented Mr. Njawe from taking the case to
the Supreme Court.

Finally, we are concerned for the health and safety of Mr. Njawe who has
stated that he resides in an unsanitary and overcrowded cell occupied by
more than 100 other prisoners, many of whom were convicted of violent
crimes, has been threatened by prisoners, and has had difficulty accessing
medical treatment.

Therefore, we call on the Cameroonian government to abide by international
law by protecting the right of its citizens to express themselves freely, by
ensuring due process, and by bringing prison conditions into line with
international standards.


Peter Takirambudde

Executive Director for Africa


Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10118
United States
hrwnyc (@) hrw.org

Fax:+1 212 736 1300
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