Date: Thu, 8 Jan 98 11:31:08 CST
From: Ray Mitchell <RMITCHEL%AI-UK%amnesty.org.uk@WUVMD.Wustl.Edu>
Subject: AI: Cameroon bulletin
Prisoner of conscience; Health concern; Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of Pius Njawe, journalist, director of Le Messager
Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, AI Index: AFR 17/01/98, UA 07/98, 8 January 1998
CAMEROON -- Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Pius Njawe, a prominent journalist and director of the independent newspaper Le Messager, who was arrested in late December 1997. The conditions in the prison where he is being held could pose a threat to his health.
Pius Njawe was arrested on 24 December 1997 and detained by the police judiciaire (the police investigation department) following an article in Le Messager two days earlier by another journalist which questioned the state of health of President Paul Biya. On 26 December Pius Njawe was charged with dissemination of false news (propagation de fausses nouvelles) and transferred to the Central Prison, New Bell, in Douala. His trial has been scheduled for 13 January 1998. If convicted, he faces a sentence of three months' to two years' imprisonment and/or a fine.
Amnesty International considers Pius Njawe to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely because of his legitimate professional activities and in violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Pius Njawe has been denied visits from members of his family, lawyers and colleagues. On 31 December five members of the Committee to Free Pius Njawe (Comite de liberation de Pius Njawe) were arrested and held briefly by police when they attempted to visit Pius Njawe in New Bell prison. On 3 January 1998 the security forces were reported to have surrounded the area around New Bell prison to deter Pius Njawe's supporters. Prison conditions are extremely harsh throughout Cameroon and fall far short of international standards for the treatment of prisoners. Both criminal and political prisoners are held in conditions which deny their basic rights, which pose a threat to both health and life and which amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Most prisons are severely overcrowded and sanitary facilities are non-existent or inadequate. Health care and nutrition are also seriously deficient. Disease is rife and there is a high mortality rate among prisoners.
Since 1995 an increasing number of journalists have been convicted on criminal charges and sentenced to terms of imprisonment for criticizing government authorities. Attacks on freedom of expression in Cameroon continued and intensified during 1996 and into 1997 as both legislative and presidential elections approached. Prosecutions of journalists have appeared to be attempts by the authorities to inhibit criticism of prominent members of the government, those closely associated with them, or government policies. In some cases there have been serious irregularities in judicial procedures.
Pius Njawe and other journalists working for Le Messager have been imprisoned on several occasions in the past. In October 1996 he and a colleague, Alain Christian Eyoum Ngangue, were convicted of insulting the President and members of the National Assembly (outrage par injure fait au president de la Republique ainsi qu'aux membres de l'Assemblee nationale). Initially only fined when the case was first heard earlier in 1996, they had their sentences increased to fines and prison terms: Pius Njawe received six months and Alain Christian Eyoum Ngangue one year. Pius Njawe was imprisoned in New Bell prison where he was denied access to his doctor and medical treatment. He was conditionally released after 17 days (see UA 250/96, AFR 17/06/96, 31 October 1996 and updates). Alain Christian Eyoum Ngangue was arrested in January 1997 and imprisoned for more than two months before being conditionally released.