Cameroonian authorities should speedily investigate an alleged arson attack on community radio station Sky FM in the volatile Northwest region and ensure those responsible are prosecuted, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said.
Unknown people set fire to the station on August 3, destroying the building and equipment including two transmitters, computers, four recorders, a video camera, a mixer, decoder, television set, and office furniture, according station owner Abdou Borno and several media reports.
The radio station is based in the town of Ndu, about 124 km (77 miles) from Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, one of two regions where Anglophone separatists have been waging an armed struggle for an independent state called Ambazonia against the French-speaking government of President Paul Biya.
“All parties to the conflict in Cameroon, whether government forces or Ambazonians, should stop targeting journalists and media organisations and allow them to operate safely and without fear of reprisal,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said.
“The media is not the enemy. Journalists are simply trying to do their jobs by ensuring that citizens are armed with useful information in what has become an increasingly bloody phase in Cameroon’s history.”
Borno told CPJ that he believed the radio station was targeted because of its “Back to School” campaign, which began last year encouraging students to return to school.
The new school year starts in September, and a school boycott has been in place since November 2016 when lawyers and teachers in both the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions began protesting the alleged marginalisation of English by Biya’s central government in Yaounde, according to news reports.
Borno told CPJ that he learned of the fire on the morning of August 4 when he got a call from the manager of the nearby Summit Hotel. A hotel receptionist allegedly heard a noise at about 11 pm the night before, but did not investigate further.
Sky FM station manager Bernard Tata Gibip found a cutlass, gasoline container, and a box of matches near the radio station, Borno told CPJ.
The station broadcasts in English and local languages on topics including culture, health, and the economy, said Borno, who is a local official of Biya’s ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement party.