Reporters Without Borders regrets the Cameroonian government’s foot-dragging in the investigation into journalist “Bibi” Ngota Ngota’s death in Yaoundé’s Kodengui prison on 22 April. See previous release.
At the end of April, President Paul Biya called for an investigation into the circumstances of Ngota’s death but a report on its findings has yet to be published.
“We urge the Cameroonian authorities to quickly release the findings of the administrative investigation,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Light must be shed on every aspect of this matter including the conditions in which this journalist was being detained and the causes of his death. The authorities cannot carry on making evasive comments.”
Cameroonian government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary, who is also minister of communication, was questioned by a journalist about Ngota’s death in detention during a news conference in Paris on 8 June.
Bakary, who had clearly been expecting a question on this subject, responded with hackneyed rhetoric about Cameroon’s enemies, media that “repeat and exaggerate distorted information,” and attempts to discredit his “beautiful country.” He nonetheless also tried to be reassuring, stressing that the president had ordered an enquiry into the case “so that the truth comes to light.”
While sidestepping questions about Ngota’s prison conditions, Bakary pre-empted the investigations findings by saying: “Bibi Ngota did not because of lack of treatment but because he had an illness.” He nonetheless acknowledged that Ngota was not guilty of any press offence and that he was in prison because he was the “collateral victim of a false document.”
Reporters Without Borders regrets that Bakary failed to mention two essential aspects of the case which are, in practice, very important for journalism and press freedom in Cameroon – the criminalisation of press offences and the fact that detained journalists are put in cells with ordinary offenders.
The head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk reminded President Biya of the importance of decriminalizing press offences during a brief exchange at the Africa-France summit in Nice on 1 June.