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Newspaper publisher held incommunicado, reporters attacked as government steps up media crackdown

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns an escalation in repression of the privately-owned media with the 3 March 2008 arrest of Jacques Blaise Mvié, the publisher of the "La Nouvelle Presse" weekly, and several cases of physical violence against journalists covering a wave of street demonstrations against increases in the prices of fuel and basic staples.

"The protests against cost of living increases are beginning to take a heavy toll on the media," the press freedom organisation said. "President Paul Biya and his associates seem to be ready to resort to anything to ensure their political future, including arbitrary arrests of journalists. As Cameroon is supposed to respect the rule of law, there can be no grounds for holding Mvié incommunicado and he should be freed at once."

Mvié was arrested on the morning of 3 March by Military Security troops acting on the orders of defence minister Rémy Ze Meka. An article in the 27 February issue of "La Nouvelle Presse" accused him of involvement in an alleged "coup attempt" in September 2007 that led to several arrests of members of the armed forces. It is not known where Mvié is being held.

Meanwhile, there have been several physical attacks on journalists covering the street protests in Douala. Cameraman Eric Golf Kouatchou of the Canal 2 International TV station was beaten and briefly detained along with demonstrators by members of the Mobile Intervention Group (GMI) on 27 February. His camera was destroyed and he was not freed until he paid bail of 56,000 CFA francs (approx. 83 euros), for which he was not given a receipt.

David Nouwou, the deputy of editor of the daily "La Nouvelle Expression", Patient Ebwele, a correspondent of "Le Jour", another daily, and Canal 2 International reporter Yvonne Cathy Nken were also attacked by the security forces.

These incidents have come at a time of great tension between the government, military and press. At the end of February, the authorities ordered the temporary closure of Equinoxe TV and two radio stations, Radio Equinoxe and Magic FM (see IFEX alerts of 29 and 22 February 2008). As well as price hikes, the social unrest is being fuelled by a plan to amend the constitution to allow President Biya, who has been in power since 1982, to run for another term in 2012.

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