EXTERNAL AI Index: AFR 17/01/98
UA 07/98 Prisoner of conscience / Health concern
Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment 8 January 1998
CAMEROON Pius Njawé, journalist, director of Le Messager
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release
of Pius Njawé, a prominent journalist and director of the independent newspaper
Le Messager, who was arrested in late December 1997. The conditions in the
prison where he is being held could pose a threat to his health.
Pius Njawé was arrested on 24 December 1997 and detained by the police judiciaire
(the police investigation department) following an article in Le Messager two
days earlier by another journalist which questioned the state of health of
President Paul Biya. On 26 December Pius Njawé was charged with dissemination
of false news (propagation de fausses nouvelles) and transferred to the Central
Prison, New Bell, in Douala. His trial has been scheduled for 13 January 1998.
If convicted, he faces a sentence of three months’ to two years’ imprisonment
and/or a fine.
Amnesty International considers Pius Njawé to be a prisoner of conscience,
imprisoned solely because of his legitimate professional activities and in
violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Pius Njawé has been denied visits from members of his family, lawyers and
colleagues. On 31 December five members of the Committee to Free Pius Njawé
(Comité de libération de Pius Njawé) were arrested and held briefly by police
when they attempted to visit Pius Njawé in New Bell prison. On 3 January 1998
the security forces were reported to have surrounded the area around New Bell
prison to deter Pius Njawé’s supporters.
Prison conditions are extremely harsh throughout Cameroon and fall far short
of international standards for the treatment of prisoners. Both criminal and
political prisoners are held in conditions which deny their basic rights, which
pose a threat to both health and life and which amount to cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment. Most prisons are severely overcrowded and sanitary
facilities are non-existent or inadequate. Health care and nutrition are also
seriously deficient. Disease is rife and there is a high mortality rate among
Since 1995 an increasing number of journalists have been convicted on criminal
charges and sentenced to terms of imprisonment for criticizing government
authorities. Attacks on freedom of expression in Cameroon continued and
intensified during 1996 and into 1997 as both legislative and presidential
elections approached. Prosecutions of journalists have appeared to be attempts
by the authorities to inhibit criticism of prominent members of the government,
those closely associated with them, or government policies. In some cases there
have been serious irregularities in judicial procedures.
Pius Njawé and other journalists working for Le Messager have been imprisoned
on several occasions in the past. In October 1996 he and a colleague, Alain
Christian Eyoum Ngangué, were convicted of insulting the President and members
of the National Assembly (outrage par injure fait au président de la République
ainsi qu’aux membres de l’Assemblée nationale). Initially only fined when the
case was first heard earlier in 1996, they had their sentences increased to