The Government of Cameroon forced a new radio station to shut down last week the day before it was due to go on air as part of a continuing drive to silence critical media, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) said on Tuesday.
The Paris-based press freedom group said in a statement that police surrounded the offices of Freedom FM in the port city of Douala on May 23 and closed the radio station on the orders of Communications Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo. The minister said Freedom FM did not have government permission to broadcast.
RSF described the move as "a serious attack on press freedom," designed to dampen media criticism of President Paul Biya and his government in the run-up to next year's presidential elections.
"This uncalled for measure is a severe blow to news diversity in Cameroon," Robert Menard, the secretary general of RSF, said in a letter to the communications minister.
RSF had previously expressed concern at the government's closure of two privately owned television stations, RTA and Canal 2, on February 19.
The organisation noted that independent radio and television stations are officially allowed to exist in Cameroon, but that in practice they are forced to operate illegally since the authorities do not respond to requests for licences. It urged the government to allow Freedom FM to go on air.
Pius Njawe, the head of the Messager media group which owns Freedom FM, said the government had initially responded positively to the station's request for a broadcasting licence. "We completed all the formalities. The ministry even sent technicians to inspect our equipment," RSF quoted Njawe as saying.
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