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Pius Njawé, torchbearer for press freedom, dies in car accident

Highly respected press freedom advocate, Pius Njawé, died on 12 July.
Highly respected press freedom advocate, Pius Njawé, died on 12 July.

Le Messager via IPI

Shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic death of Cameroonian journalist Pius Njawé in a car accident in the US this week, IFEX members worldwide have responded with heartfelt tributes to his life's work as a courageous defender of press freedom.

Njawé, 53, founded Cameroon's first independent newspaper, "Le Messager", in 1979 at the age of 22. He was president of the Free Media Group, a company that publishes the leading independent daily. Last year, the paper held a celebration for its 30th anniversary. During his lifetime, Njawé was arrested 126 times and imprisoned three times.

In 1992, Njawé was forced to flee Cameroon after receiving death threats. In his year in exile in Benin, he immediately started another paper, called "Le Messagere". Upon his return to Cameroon, he founded the Cameroon Organisation for Press Freedom (OCALIP).

Njawé was killed on 12 July 2010, in Virginia, after a tractor-trailer struck the vehicle in which he was a passenger. He was in the US to attend a pro-democracy forum organised by the Washington-based Cameroon Diaspora For Change.

In an interview with IPI a month before he was killed, Njawé said: "A word can be more powerful than a weapon and I believe that with the word... we can build a better world and make happier people. So, why give up while duty still calls? No one will silence me, except The Lord, before I achieve what I consider as a mission in my native country, in Africa and, why not, in the world."

He was named an IPI World Press Freedom Hero in 2000. "The African media has lost a truly courageous individual whose bravery in the face of government intimidation served as an inspiration for other journalists in similar circumstances across the continent," said IPI.

His unflinching courage earned him many other international accolades, including the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) Golden Pen of Freedom Award and the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"His very presence in a room made those around him want to enter with joy in the fray for press freedom," wrote Ronald Koven of the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), who helped translate and distribute letters from Njawé which were smuggled out of prison in 1998.

"He fought every press freedom struggle. We will not forget, for example that he joined us on a visit to Sarajevo, in 1992, to offer support to "Oslobodenje", the only newspaper that continued to come out during the war in Yugoslavia," said Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"As an editor he was courageous and as an employer of journalists he always respected the need for decent working conditions - one of the key foundations of a democratic media culture. We mourn his loss and we send our sympathy to the journalists of Cameroon," said the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

In 2002, Njawé's wife was also killed in a car accident in Cameroon. He then launched the Jane and Justice Foundation for Human Development to improve traffic safety.


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