Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Print Journalism
Artist: Pius Njawe & Celestin Monga
Confronting Bodies: Cameroon Government
Dates of Action: December 27, 1990
Description of Artwork: In late December 1990, Pius Njawe, the editor of Le Messager, and Celestin Monga, an economist who also writes for Le Messager and Jeune Afrique Economie, published in Paris, came under government scrutiny and were subject to an investigation. In Monga's open letter (which appeared in the December 27 issue #209 of Le Messager), entitled "Rigged Democracy," he criticized President Biya's December 3 address, in which the President stated 'I have brought you democracy and liberty.' The letter also criticized the recent session of the Cameroon parliament. Monga wrote: "Like many other Cameroonians, I was shocked by the outrageously condescending, paternalistic, and pretentious tone that you used in the National Assembly on December 3 when addressing the Cameroonian people. How could you allow yourself to say to 11 million Cameroonians: 'I have brought you democracy... ' This is a country where every day, the most fundamental human rights are ridiculed and where the majority of the people do not have enough to live on, while a small number of opportunists share the riches of the country with impunity?
The Incident: In early January charges were brought against them (Njawe and Monga)--Article 153 of the Penal Code, showing contempt for the President of the Republic, and Article 154, showing contempt for members of the national assembly, the Courts and Tribunals--relating to (the) open letter written by Monga to President Biya... "On December 27, shortly after #209 of the issue was put on sale, police began to confiscate it in the streets. Reports indicate that police raided the offices of Le Messager that night; many of the employees were interrogated, and some were taken to the police station. On December 28, one of Le Messager 's lawyers, Charles Tchoungang, lodged a formal complaint with the prosecutor of Douala about the police actions against the newspaper. He protested illegal confiscation of the issue #209 and other documents in Le Messager 's office; the arrest of Emanuel Ngankam Noubissie, an editor at the paper; and direct threats made by police against Mr. Tchoungang himself, in front of five witnesses. At this writing (2/12/91), there has been no response to this complaint. "On January 1, Monga was arrested and interrogated. He was held without charge and was not permitted any visitors until his release on January 3. The passports of both Njawe and Monga were confiscated on January 7... " ...The government contends that although issue #209 of Le Messager was submitted to the censor as required by the new press law, 'the procedural rules were not respected.' A Cameroonian official from the Ministry of Territorial Administration--the Assistant Director of Political Affairs, Mr. Erik Essoussee--explained the seizure of Le Messager as follows: "Le Messager deposited two copies of its journal at our offices, but the journal was put into circulation before we had given our point of view. Yet this journal contained two articles that undermined the authorities. "According to Le Messager, however, two copies of the newspaper were brought to the appropriate authorities at 9:00 a.m. on December 27, as stipulated by the new press law. Four hours later, when the authorities had not completed their examination, the editors of Le Messager decided to proceed with distributing the paper, as of 4:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the printing house that produces the newspaper--SOPECAM--was informed that issue #209 had been seized."
Results of Incident: The first session of Monga and Njawa's trial took place on January 10 in Douala. More than 100 lawyers from the Cameroon Bar Association joined together to act as the defense counsel. The trial was adjourned the following week. In the city of Douala, large demonstrations were held by well-known musicians, intellectuals, representatives of newly formed political parties, and others concerned with freedom of expression.
On January 18, Njawe and Monga were given 6-month suspended sentences and a fine of 300,00 CFA (1,150) each on charges of showing contempt for the courts and tribunals and members of the National Assembly. The charge of showing contempt for the President was dropped.
On the night of January 22-23, the offices of Le Messager were broken into. Among the items taken was the central memory of the newspaper's computer system. The circumstances surrounding the burglary remain suspicious.
"On the night of January 19-20, the office of Yondo Black--one of their lawyers as well as one of the defendants in the major political trial in April--was the subject of a suspicious burglary. The only item missing from Black's office was his file about the Mongo-Njawe trial.
In addition, Pius Njawe and some of his lawyers have reported receiving anonymous death threats by telephone and by mail. At this writing (2/12/91), the threats against Mr. Njawe continue, forcing him to provide extra security at the office of Le Messager and to take special precautions for himself.
Source: Human Rights Watch/Africa Watch, "Cameroon: Attacks Against Independent Press," 2/12/91