An appraisal of freedom of speech in Cameroon
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Freedom of Expression and opinion are fundamental human rights and ought to be protected, respected and defended by all.
It is being protected both at the National and International levels. In our modern society, it seems like instead of the promotion of freedom of expression, our political leaders have embarked on the journey of making sure that, the voices of their subjects, journalist, freedom fighters, opposition leaders and human rights defendants are not heard.
This is the reality on the ground but at the same time, our laws have provided that, the right to freedom of opinion should be respected by all irrespective of their ranks, profession and gender
. Notice that, we have international laws put in place for its protection such as the UDHR, ICCPR, ICESPR. And we have National laws such as the 1996 Constitution, Law No 90/52 of 19th December on mass communication, Law 90/56 of 19th December 1990 on Political Parties and other related laws touching on freedom of speech.
However, the law also limits the use of this right so that individuals will not use it against others in society such as defamatory statements.
Nevertheless, influential people in society use this limitation to their advantage of which should not be the case.
The study of Freedom of Speech proposes that new laws should be put enacted to ensure the effective protection of the freedom fighters, journalists and citizens in Cameroon to ensure a peaceful and progressive society.
Freedom speech has a very long history. It all started in ancient Greece, where citizens of Athens actually enjoyed considerable freedom of speech in the 400BC.
Freedom of speech though was a central issue between religion and politics throughout European history, including the Reformation in the 16th century that gave rise to a new religious tradition of Protestantism.
Speech restrictions issued by Kings James I led to a declaration of freedom by parliament in 1621.
During the enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century, the speech was considered a natural right. Influential philosophers of England and France stressed the importance of the individual with each person having a right to speak freely and participate in the Government’s freedom of expression.
Thus, became an important factor in the French Revolution leading to the Declaration of the Right of Man which provided that ‘men are born and remain free and equal in the right’.
The colonists were well aware of the English tradition of suppressing speech. Informing a democracy, the founders considered free speech absolutely necessary. They reasoned that freedom of belief would have little meaning if thought could not freely be expressed and shared. In fact, a tradition of robust and rowdy expression was prevalent during the framing of the Constitution.
The framers reasoned that, if the government was to be governed by the people, then the government can only be as effective as the citizens are informed.
Influenced by the French Declaration of 1789, the framers raised the issue of freedom of speech to yet another level involving constitutional law, more compelling than a declaration. In the end, the colonists struck a balance between absolute freedom and the English form of restricted freedom.
Following the above organization, in 1791, the First Amendment on Freedom of Speech on the 15th of December as part of the Bill of Right was done by the United State of America confirming the fundamental rights of citizens. This amendment guarantees the right to express ideas and information.
Freedom of expression; the right to express opinions without government restriction is a democratic ideal that dates back to ancient Greece.
The Bill of right provides constitutional protection and individual liberties. However, it also provides limits to freedom of speech.
The French Declaration of freedom of speech is contained in its article 11. It provides for‘the free communication, of thought and of prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the people peaceably opinions is one of the most precious of man. Any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, except to respond to abuse of his liberty in the cases determined by the law.’
Freedom of speech grants Americans the liberty to criticize the government and speak their minds without fear of being censored or prosecuted.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Right reads thus “the congress shall make no law restricting an establishment of religion; to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.
Cameroon is in the pangs of this crucial transition. It was subjected to a quarter-century of stern dictatorship under Ahmadou Ahidjo.
This continued under his successor Paul Biya, until political agitations in 1990 forced him out of the one-party slumber onto the multiparty bandwagon.
A crucial factor in this evolving democratization process is Freedom of Expression which the spirit of a liberal society.
Following the above developments, freedom of speech was introduced in Cameroon and it is enshrined in the constitution of Cameroon. The constitution of Cameroon of 1996 guarantees freedom of expression in Cameroon. The Preamble of the constitution states that ‘the freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association and of trade unionism as well as the right to strike shall be guaranteed under conditions fixed by the law.’
Freedom simply can be defined as having the ability to act or change without constraint. According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, freedom is the state of being free; liberty; self-determination; absence of restraint; the opposite of slavery.
Power of acting, in a character of a moral personality according to the dictates of the will, without another check, hindrance, or prohibition than such as may be imposed by just and necessary laws and the duties of social life.
Speech is a human vocal communication using languages or the expression of or the ability to express thought and feelings by articulate sounds.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the expression is the right to say what one wants through any form of communication and media with the only limitation being to cause another person harm in character or by lying or misleading words.
Freedom of Speech
Talking about Freedom of Speech also known as Freedom of Expression is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions, ideas, without fear of retaliation censorship, or legal sanctions. It includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, freedom of speech includes the free press. The right to say what one wants in any form of communication and media, with the only limitation being to cause another person harm in character or reputation by lying or misleading words
The Cameroon 1996 Constitution guarantees the individual’s freedom of speech in Cameroon as it provides that ‘freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association and of trade unionism, as well as the right to strike, shall be guaranteed under the conditions fixed by the law.’
Also, Freedom of speech is also protected at the international level. Freedom of expression is recognized as a Human Right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]. Freedom of expression is also recognized by international human right law such as theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. [ICCPR. Article 19 of the UDHR states that ‘everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference and ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.’
Despite the above protection of the human right, of freedom of expression, there still seem not to be any freedom of expression or speech in Cameroon given the fact that the government still continues to limit the enjoyment of this right in practice. Though the constitution of 1996 ended pre-publication censorship, the African Charter’s Article 17 gives officials the power to ban publications deemed to be a threat to public order’. Libel and defamation continue to be criminal offences and judicial harassments and arrest and prosecution of journalist and writers have engendered self-censorship.
In December 2014, President Paul Biya promulgated a new anti-terrorism law that could sharply suppress the freedom of expression.
Journalists risk a jail sentence of up to 20years and a fine of 25 to 50million CFA Francs for defending terrorism. The government highly controls media broadcast.
The three independent television stations avoided criticizing the government and generally relayed government information to the public. Security forces continue to restrict press freedom and otherwise harassing print media journalists.
The government seized print runs of private newspapers and interfered with the private newspaper’s distribution. Created in 1990 by the presidential decree, the National Communication Council [NCC]is the country’s media regulator and its powers span from frequency allocation to arbitration on libel, defamation cases sanctions including bands on the media outlet.
Also, this right of freedom of expression can be said to have contributed to the present-day Anglophone crisis as the leader of the civil society consortium Barrister Agbor Felix Nkongho was arrested on the 17th of January 2017 of exercising his right of freedom of expression.
With the above analysis, it creates a doubt as to whether there is actually freedom of speech in Cameroon or not.
What is freedom of speech or expression and what does it protect?
- Is freedom of speech a reality in Cameroon?
- Are there legal frameworks put in place for the protection of the right to freedom of expression in Cameroon?
- Are there any limitations of the right of freedom of speech?
- What can be done for the effective implementation of freedom of speech?
The objectives of the work include:
To examine the concept of freedom of speech or expression.
- To discuss Freedom of Speech in Cameroon.
- To examine the legal frameworks put in place for the protection of free speech in Cameroon.
- To assess the effectiveness of the protection of free speech in Cameroon.
- To make policy recommendations.