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Cameroon Investigation into Journalist's Death Challenged

Press freedom advocates are questioning Cameroon's investigation into a prominent journalist's death. Government officials say Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota died in prison because he was weakened by HIV.

Government spokesperson Issa Tchirma says though Ngota had high blood pressure, an HIV-related infection was the cause of death.

"The medical examination carried out while he was in prison showed that he was HIV positive," he said. "The patient died of opportunistic infections within a context where the immune system had completely collapsed."

Ngota died April 22 while in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. He was arrested in late February. Ngota's wife denied the government's claim that he was HIV positive, and she previously said he suffered from high blood pressure.

Press-freedom advocates, including the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, have questioned the government's recent announcement. The group's Africa researcher, Mohamed Keita, adds they are also surprised about the allegations the government has made as to why the journalist was arrested.

"We are quite shocked by the statements of the information minister, because the government announced that there would be an investigation about his death and the circumstances under which he was arrested. But at the same time the minister of communication came out and made this announcement, even before the investigation was concluded," he said.

He adds the Committee to Protect Journalists feels the government announcements are compromising the investigation. Keita also said the group worries about the level of press freedom in Cameroon.

"In general, I think we have been calling for years now on President Biya to decriminalize press offenses in Cameroon because journalists continue to be sent to prison," he said. "The fact that many members of his government use these criminal laws and use security forces to settle scores with their critics in the press has led to these abuses and many others."

Keita says the Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about three others in detention in Cameroon, one who has been in prison since September 2008 and has lost hearing in one ear due to an infection.