YAOUNDE, CAMEROON —
Cameroon journalists say the government is trying to silence any criticism - a day after a military tribunal barred two reporters from practicing their profession and blocked them from traveling out of the country.
Colleagues say Felix Cyriaque Ebole Bola of Mutations and Rodrigue Tongue of Le Messager, Cameroon's leading private daily newspapers were detained this week to answer charges relating to national security.
The two journalists appeared before a military tribunal Tuesday in connection with obtaining information related to 81-year old President Paul Biya’s not being physically fit for office - after three decades in power.
Cameroon State Media CRTV says the journalists are "accused of detention of sensitive information."
The two reporters were asked about the information - allegedly supplied by Baba Wame, a lecturer in Cameroon's school of journalism.
Yaounde-based journalist Sixtus Mbom said this is a clear case of government intimidation.
"This is a way of killing our profession. News sources will be scared to even go to a journalist when they have problems or when they think there is a situation," said Mbom.
The journalists say, after hours of questioning, the military tribunal barred them from reporting and travelling out of Cameroon. They said the judge is also requiring them to report to court every Monday until a trial date.
Ngah Christian Mbipgo, vice president of Cameroon's federation of newspaper publishers, said this incident is a serious threat to media freedom in Cameroon.
"It is the worst thing that has ever happened to this country. In journalism we are told to protect our sources and when journalists are dragged to the military tribunal on presumption that they had material which they did not surrender to the security it becomes worrisome. How does the military tribunal go ahead to pass an injunction on the journalist as if they were already declared guilty?" asked Mbipgo.
Peter Essoka, vice president of the Cameroon Communication Council, said the group will weigh in on this case as part of its mandate.
"Very highly placed hierarchy, very close to the president called us and wanted to know exactly what we were doing about it. We are appointed by the president of the republic but we have a right to use that authority to take certain decisions. And so we will take a decision,” he said.
Last year, the Communication Council closed down 11 newspapers, television and radio stations, for what it describes as disrespect of ethics and professional norms.
The international Committee to Protect Journalists has noted a concerning pattern of intimidation of journalists in Cameroon.