A community radio station in the northwest region of Cameroon, Sky FMhas been attacked and burnt down by supposedly unknown persons.
The alleged arson attack , which happened on August 3, destroyed the radio station’s two transmitters, computers, four recorders, a video camera, a mixer, a decoder, television set, and several office furniture.
Sky FM is located in the town of Ndu, about 124 kilometers from Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, which is 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. A recent Human Rights Watch report blamed both sides for grave abuses against civilians, including killings.
Sky FM broadcasts in English and other local languages on topics that include culture, health, and the economy. The station’s owner, Abdou Borno alleges that his radio station was targeted because of its Back to Schoolcampaign, which encourages students to return to school.
The new school year in Cameroon starts in September, and a school boycott has been ongoing since November 2016 when lawyers and teachers in both the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions began protesting the alleged marginalization of English by Biya’s central government in Yaounde. The protest was then taken over by separatist factions as the conflict escalated with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accusing them of violently enforcing the boycott, according to a report by IRIN.
Borno alleges that “separatist activists decided to burn the entire radio house with all equipment” because of his stance against the school boycott protest.
In a detailed statement sent to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a spokesperson for the separatists’ Self Defense Council of the Ambazonian Interim Government (ASC), A.J.N Mbiydzenyuy denies the involvement of separatist forces in the arson attack on the radio station, saying there is no evidence that activists of the separatist Ambazonia movement were responsible for the arson attack.
“The ASC leadership has never approved an arson attack, the restoration forces council in Nkambe is unaware of any involvement of their forces…and the field commanders of our forces in Ndu declined responsibility of the FM radio station arson attack,” he said.
Journalists working for the weekly NewsWatch confirmed that both the government and separatists were targeting journalists.
“Separatists are threatening us with messages that we are siding with government in our reports as we try to stay neutral or objective in the crisis. On the other hand, any report that seems to be propagating the agenda of the separatists is tantamount to the crime of ‘apologies de terrorisme’ punishable under the anti-terrorism law by the government,” they said.
CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator, Angela Quintal has called on all parties to the conflict in Cameroon to stop targeting journalists and media organizations.
“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,” she said in a statement issued Thursday.