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Media repression reported by IFEX members ahead of elections

In the week leading up to Cameroon's national elections, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) conducted a press freedom mission that concluded both the country's media laws and democratic participation require a major overhaul. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), meanwhile, reports on the detention and assault of journalists just one day before the elections.

The mission lasted from 26 September to the day of the country's national elections on 2 October. According to news reports, widespread problems, including individuals who allegedly voted more than once, marred the elections. President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 30 years, is seeking another seven years in office and is expected to be declared the winner when results are released on Monday. But opposition leaders are demanding the Supreme Court nullify the vote, AFP reports.

"The media's coverage of the campaign is trying to be balanced but the campaign itself is not," RSF said, noting the lack of posters or rallies for opposition members. The delegation also heard from journalists that President Biya only invited favourable public-owned media on campaign tours, to the exclusion of private media. RSF also lamented that low pay among journalists was leading some to resort to blackmail and bribes.

In addition to speaking with journalists, the RSF delegation met with communication minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary to encourage Cameroon to decriminalise defamation and update its 15-year-old media legislation to include provisions for online media, give journalists autonomy from the will of political figures and protect access to information and the confidentiality of sources, among other necessary amendments.

Reports from IFJ and its African partner the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) further elucidate the repression of the press and democratic life in Cameroon. The organisations report that five journalists were roughed up and had their equipment destroyed by police when they attempted to cover a separatist demonstration by Southern Cameroonians in the southwestern town of Buea just one day before the election.

Three journalists who work for "The Post" newspaper were detained, and another "Post" editor, Bouddih Adams, were detained for a short period, IFJ and FAJ report. Adams is also the administrative secretary of the IFJ and FAJ affiliate, the National Syndicate of Journalists of Cameroon.

According to Voice of America, more than 40 of the English-speaking demonstrators, who seek autonomy from Cameroon's French majority, were detained during the peaceful march, which police called "unauthorised".

On 6 October, the FAJ pointed to Cameroon, among other African countries, as a place where "journalists are facing a dual safety crisis, the physical safety and the legal safety." The FAJ appealed to the legal arm of the African Union, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), to end impunity of crimes against journalists across the continent, and to protect journalists with legislation.

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