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Saturday, November 3, 2012

An African Freedom Fighter Remembered


Cameroonian journalist and freedom fighter Pius Njawé is the human symbol of the freedom of speech in his country. Imprisoned over 100 times in 30 years and sentenced in 1998 to two years in prison for reporting that Cameroon's president Paul Biya had heart trouble, the life of deceased Pius Njawé speaks for itself. 


PIUS NJAWE (1957-2010)
"[Cameroonian] government officials threatened, harassed, and denied equal treatment to individuals or organizations that criticized government policies or expressed views at odds with government policy," a 42-page online report by the U.S. government states. 

In an article honoring Njawé, The Washington Post staff writer Adam Bernstein presents the struggles faced by one of Africa's most courageous fighters for press freedom.

Despite the official abolition of press censorship in 1996, Mr.Njawé was arrested the next year after reporting that Biya had collapsed while watching a soccer match. Mr. Njawé said he based his information in three witnesses, but he was charged with "spreading false news," a form of subversion."

The International Press Freedom (IPF) provides more details about this World Press Freedom Hero honoured in 2000.

"Njawé was arrested again on December 24, 1997, and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 500, 000 Central African francs (US $1,000)," an online IPF article states.

Bernstein adds that Njawé received a two-year sentence that was later reduced to 10 months after a presidential pardon following international condemnation. According to Bernstein, Njawé said the prison governor warned him not to chance solitary confinement by continuing to write.

IPF reports that during his time in prison, Njawé shared a dungeon-like cell with more than 100 other prisoners, most of them convicted of robbery, murder and other felonies. Further, the organization states that Njawé's wife (now deceased), who was late into pregnancy, was physically abused a prison administrator on the occasions when she brought Njawé food and linen. She subsequently suffered a miscarriage. 

In the same article, IPF shares personal thoughts from Njawé writing by flashlight from cell no.15 in Douala State Prison.

"I know I am paying for my stubbornness in my struggle for  the past 18 years in Le Messager and [other] organizations to broaden democratic freedom in Cameroon and Africa," Njawé said. "I'm paying for having preferred my independence to compromise."

A 2011 article by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) echoes Njawe's sentiment. In the article, CPJ exposes the fate of Cameroonian editor François Fogno Fotso of the private bimonthly Génération Libre. The CPJ article states that the journalist has been detained and asked to reveal sources for a story detailing alleged corruption by a tax official.

Adam Nossiter from The New York Times has also honored Njawe's memory in his article titled "Puis Njawé, Noted African Journalist, Dies at 53."

In the article, Stephen W. Smith, professor of Africa studies at Duke University who has written about Njawé's career, describes him as "a pioneer," who "put his whole life into being a journalist. It came out of his pores."

1991 Recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom award, Njawé died at 50 from a car accident in the United States. He is survived by his eight children. 

Pius Njawé was president of the  Free Media Group, a company that publishes Cameroon's first and leading independent daily Le Messager (The Messenger). The publication has targeted the government of President Paul Biya in power since 1982.