- The Cameroonian government has shut down the private broadcaster 'Radio Veritas', a station founded and run by Cardinal Christian Tumi, after its reporting critical to the government. Another radio station, the independent 'Freedom FM', has also been banned.
Cardinal Christian Tumi is a leading critic of Cameroonian President Paul Biya. His private broadcaster, 'Radio Veritas', went off the air on 15 November, one day after being banned by the Communications Ministry. 'Radio Veritas' had been test-broadcasting in Douala, the country's main city, for two weeks.
Cardinal Tumi has publicly hinted that he could run for the presidency in elections due in October 2004. During the last few years, the Catholic clergy man has emerged as one of President Biya's most outspoken opponents and one of the few Cameroonians getting away with public critiques of the increasingly oppressive regime.
'Radio Freedom', on the other hand, was founded by Pius Njawé, the director of the independent 'Le Messager' press group, the closest thing to an independent press found in Cameroon. This station was banned in May. Police put the station's equipment under seal on the eve of its inauguration. Since then, no word has been broadcasted by 'Radio Freedom'.
Mr Njawé has pursued legal action to get the ban lifted, but Communications Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo counter-sued in mid-October, charging that Mr Njawé had set up the station without permission. He asked the court to officially seize the equipment of 'Freedom FM' and fine Mr Njawé.
The Paris-based press freedom watchdogs, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), in a statement today described the closure as "a political measure". RSF subsequently condemned the measure as an attack on press freedom.
- We do not understand how, in the space of a few weeks, some stations have been allotted frequencies while this one has been closed down, said RSF Secretary-General, Robert Ménard, in a statement.
Mr Ménard added that "'Veritas' and 'Freedom FM', set up by the Le Messager media group, have been banned because of their criticism, despite the government's technical and legal explanations. We fear the situation will get worse as next year's presidential election approaches."
The situation of press freedom in Cameroon has continued to deteriorate during the last years. The Biya government has been careful not to allow potential opponents run media houses that could challenge state media. The opposition barely has access to state media. Several journalists have also been arrested lately, after publishing government critical articles.
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