Freedom of opinion and expression are fundamental human rights and ought to be promoted, respected and defended by all. In our modern society, it seems like instead of promoting freedom of expression, our political barons have embarked on a journey of making sure that the voices of their subjects, journalists, freedom fighters, opposition leaders and human rights defenders are not heard. This is the reality on the ground but at the same time our laws have provided that the rights to freedom of opinion and expression should be respected by all irrespective of their ranks, profession and gender.
The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa joins the International community to commemorate the 26th World Press Freedom Day under the theme “Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”. The theme of this year draws more attention to recent happenings within the political life of every country and the role of journalists in disseminating information. For example, the recent post- electoral crisis in Cameroon, the political crisis in Venezuela, Sudan, Algeria, and a host of other countries. Therefore, it of great significance that we advocate, educate and encourage journalists to disseminate credible information for public consumption especially during elections and in conflict situations. CHRDA joins the international community to commemorate this day because “we believe that without disseminating the right information to the public, the society cannot advance, and the human rights activist will not be able to monitor and investigate human rights violations/abuses”
World Press Freedom Day (the 3rd of May) was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 following the request by UNISCO. The aim was to continue advocating for the rights of journalists, defending the media from attack, assessing the state of freedom of press within the globe and paying tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in line with their duty. Before 1993, when the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the 3rd of May as the World Press Freedom Day, there were both national and international laws protecting freedom of opinion and expression and there are still favorable laws today. The question now is, are these laws respected or implemented by the competent authorities as they are supposed to? There is no gain saying that these laws are respected because there are many journalists now in prisons, some in the hands of kidnappers and some on exile simply for carrying out their duty.
Globally, and especially in the Cameroonian society, journalists, freedom fighters and human rights defenders have been targeted by government authorities and some non-state actors for speaking the truth against human rights violations. They are either arbitrarily arrested by government authorities or kidnaped by non-state actors. These attacks and crimes against freedom of expression contradict both the national and international laws protecting the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Though freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, it must be controlled by competent authorities taking into consideration the applicable laws. This is because hate speech is not freedom of expression and the world cannot be freely open for fake information to be consumed by the public. Our leaders have taken this advantage of not letting hate speech and fake information to be circulated as a justification for arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists. This can be seen in a case where journalists are now arrested for making known to the public the level of human rights violations/abuses, for having different political ideologies, and for being advocates for justice.
The land mark case of Ahmed Abba who was arrested and jailed for over two years for having contact with the Boko Haram group can be described as an attack on journalism. He was accused of being an accomplice and for allegedly being in keeping of an attack plan by the Boko Haram militants. Therefore, this act constitutes the violation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Following the prevailing crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon, many journalists and human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested, went on self-exile or kidnapped for simply doing their work. Many journalists have been arrested since 2017; some have been released while some are still in detention. For example, Atia Tilarius, Thomas Awah, Mancho Bibixy, Finian Tim Njua, Achamba Hans, Amos Fofong, Mofor Ndong and most recently Mimi Mefo of Equinox tv, arrested and charged with propagating false news, endangering state security and cyber criminality. Also, Ambe Macmillian was recently kidnapped and later released by non-state actors. The above-mentioned names of journalists whose rights have been violated and a host of others is the reason why we must, for a common reason, advocate for the enactment of better laws which can protect journalists, especially in crisis situations.
“Freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental right protected by both national and international laws and at the same time restricted when abused”
Nationally, there are many laws protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Cameroon. The preamble of the 1996 constitution of Cameroon guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of press. Law No 90/52 of 19 December 1990 relating to freedom of mass Communication also guarantees freedom of press. Decree No 91/287 of 21 June 1991 which set up the National Communication Council and Decree No 2012/38 of 12 January 2012 which recognized the National Communication Council with a multitude of other laws which guarantee the protection of press freedom in Cameroon. For example, section 305 and 307 of Cameroon Penal Code punishes any person who abuses in any way the use of words against a person. Article 17 of the 1996 constitution gives powers to the government officials to ban newspapers that spread dangerous or threatening information
Internationally, freedom of opinion and expression are protected by many laws; for example, article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, article 19 and 20 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 and a host of other laws guarantee freedom of opinion and expression.
Taking into consideration our main objective which is to promote, respect and defend human rights, taking into consideration the above laws, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa urges the national and international community to respect and protect the rights of journalists and human rights defenders.
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