The joy of media workers and families of jailed journalists was short-lived after a presidential decree signed on April 15 commuting and remitting sentences of persons sentenced to jail. This came just nine days after the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and 80 other press freedom and human rights organisations called for the release of journalists jailed in Cameroon and other African nations.
Hundreds of prisoners have since been released from different penitentiary institutions nationwide and more will be set free in the coming days.
But jailed journalists will however not be going home, as the President’s decree excluded them. These journalists, the 81 press freedom and human rights organisations had warned that “for journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care.”
At the moment, the scare of coronavirus in prisons especially the Kondengui prison in Yaounde has left inmates more scared than ever coupled with government silence over the increasing number of deaths recorded in the facility. Over the past days, more prisoners have also been hurriedly evacuated to hospital for emergency medical care.
In addition to the threats posed to the journalists’ lives by the coronavirus, the advocacy groups said “many of these journalists have been held in detention without trial for lengthy periods and are suffering from ill health exacerbated by underlying health conditions and overcrowded prisons where they have contracted malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases.” With some among the thousands held in pretrial detention, they still have a long way to go.
Though jailing journalists is not new in the Biya regime, many expected the coronavirus pandemic with national and international pressure for their release were going to be enough reason for them to regain their freedom but that has not been the case.
The likes of Paul Chouta, Wawa Jackson and Samuel Wazizi have been held for several months now with little or no access to family as well as delayed court sessions. CPJ says 7 journalists are currently jailed in Cameroon. The arrest of many of them is related to the ongoing crisis in the North West and South West regions.
Mimi Mefo Info