April 23, 2024

Press Freedom


Cameroon January 31, 2005

H.E. Paul Biya
Palais de L’Unité
Republic of Cameroon
Fax: (011.237) 23-08-70

Your Excellency:

Since late July, Eric Wirkwa Tayu has been in prison…and Cameroon has injured itself in the eyes of the world. Mr. Tayu, publisher of the private newspaper, Nso Voice, was imprisoned for allegedly defaming the mayor of Kumbo. The charge is that Mr. Tayu accused Mayor Donatus Njong Fonyuy of corruption.

The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), which has been defending the rights of journalists around the world for more than 60 years, takes no position on the validity of Mr. Tayu’s allegations against Mayor Fonyuy, since we do not know the details of his case. That said, in the courts of most democracies, defamation is a civil matter, not a criminal one.

You may be aware that the most recent Freedom House survey lowered Cameroon’s grade for freedom in large part because of its approach to criminal defamation and other weak spots in is legal system. For example, the OPC is increasingly concerned that Cameroonian broadcast media critical of your office have been closed on the explanation that they lacked proper licensing. Examples like these — taken together with the prosecution of our colleague, Mr. Tayu — create a cold climate for journalists and free expression in general.

Criminalizing the robust expression of opinion makes people afraid to speak…a poor basis on which to address problems, local or national. And poor policy for a country like Cameroon that considers itself democratic. No democracy can exists where people are afraid to speak their thoughts, Your Excellency. With that very much in mind, we urge you to re-consider your policies toward the media and to do all in your power to release Eric Wirkwa Tayu.

Respectfully yours,
Cait N. Murphy Kevin McDermott
Freedom of the Press Committee

Jerome Mendouga
Ambassador of Cameroon to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon
2349 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 387-3826

Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon
to the United Nations
22 East 73rd Street
New York, NY 10021
Fax: (212) 249-0533

Niels Marquardt
U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon
Embassy of the United States of America
Rue Nachtigal
P.O. Box 817
Fax: (011.237) 223-0753