Reporters Without Borders, better known by its French abbreviation RSF, has published a report detailing attacks on journalists in Cameroon’s crisis-hit English-speaking regions.
RSF is an international non-governmental organization defending press freedom across the world.
The report faults the government and Separatists for targeting Journalists in the exercise of their duties.
Four months after Anye’s murder
RSF’s outing comes four months after 26-year-old reporter Anye Nde Nsoh was targeted and killed by Separatist fighters. In the report, RSF regrets that no investigation has been carried out to bring perpetrators to book.
“The death of this journalist, who was only 26 years old, has drawn renewed attention to the scale of the challenges that reporters face in the western region, whose mostly English-speaking residents consider themselves marginalised and the victims of discrimination in comparison with Cameroon’s French-speaking majority,” the report stated.
Anye was also the Sports Desk Editor of the Advocate Newspaper in Cameroon.
Like Anye, like Wazizi
Journalist Samuel Wazizi died earlier in 2019 in government custody, and his corpse has not been seen to date.
Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions have been mired in an armed conflict between the central government and Separatists who want to create a state called Ambazonia.
According to RSF, journalism has become difficult because actions taken by both the Cameroonian authorities and armed separatists compromise press freedom.
“Murder, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest, and detention have become permanent dangers for journalists there,” RSF said.
Recalling the death of journalist Nde Nsoh, Sadibou Marong, Director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau, said, “Anye Nde Nsoh’s murder has highlighted the extent of the dangers to which journalists in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions are exposed, caught between the hammer of the separatist armed groups and the anvil of the Cameroonian armed forces.”
Journalists speaking out
With testimonies gathered from practicing Journalists in the restive North West Region, RSF notes that their daily lives are overshadowed by threats, arbitrary detention, and persecution.
Sah Terence Animbom, a reporter for The Sun newspaper, according to the RSF report, was badly beaten with rifle butts and bundled into a military truck when he filmed a protest in January 2017.
Six years later, he told RSF that he still does not feel safe.
“Even when we strive to be balanced and objective, the police accuse us of being the ones sending information to separatists. The separatists harass us and accuse us of working for the government, and we are obliged to pay exorbitant sums to pass through their barriers,” he said.
Wawa Jackson Nfor, an independent journalist based in Bamenda and a former victim of arbitrary detention, is another journalist who RSF highlights. He was arrested on May 15, 2018, after reporting that gendarmes had confiscated satellite dishes from residents in the nearby city of Nkambe because they had used them to watch a separatist TV channel broadcasting from outside the country. Nfor was finally released 33 months later, in 2021, without ever being brought to trial.
Five years later, he still seems traumatised when describing his arrest: “I was held incommunicado in a tiny cell for three days, during which I was denied food, tortured, mocked, and threatened with death. The divisional officer for Nkambe visited me in the cell and told me it was the end of the road for me because I had written unfavourable things about him.”
Other journalists in the region, including freelancer Kingsley Fumunyuy Njoka, Abakwa FM radio presenter Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, and Lifetime editor Tim Finnian, were also arrested between 2018 and 2020, detained arbitrarily, and finally released after spending several months in prison on charges of “secessionist propaganda.”
Separatists, a huge threat to press freedom
Separatist fighters, the RSF said, have also demonstrated hostility towards Journalists in the conflict regions.
Amongst them is Nimpa Francis, editor-in-chief of Radio Hot Cocoa in Bamenda, a seasoned journalist with 16 years of experience. He was kidnapped in 2019, but he managed to be released the same day by his captors.
“Armed separatist Ambazonia fighters have also been hostile towards journalists, and several journalists have been kidnapped, harassed, and attacked by them,” Francis said, citing the cases of the Secretary General of the North West Chapter of the Cameroon Journalists’ Trade Union, Ambe Macmillan, of Ndefcam Radio journalist FungJohn and Horizon correspondent Etoh George.
RSF called on the authorities to establish effective measures to protect journalists in order to prevent these regions from becoming no-news zones.