The following excerpts are taken from the article Never a Prisoner published in Pambazuka in 2006, in which Pius Njawe talks about himself.
“I have been a journalist since the age of 15. I started as an errand boy at a newspaper called Semences africaines, in the city of Yaoundé, Cameroon. Over the past 34 years, I have been arrested 126 times while carrying out my profession as a journalist. Physical and mental torture, death threats, the ransacking of my newsroom, etc., has often been my daily lot in a situation where repression and corruption, even within the press, have become the norm. Woe betide the slightest dissenting voice in this context, for it attracts all kinds of wrath, even from so-called colleagues…”
“I have never felt like a prisoner when I have been behind bars. You can be in prison without being a prisoner; the real prisoners are those who imprison journalists whose only crime is to inform or to express an opinion… ”
“… my long stay in prison above all stimulated my sense of solidarity with others, particularly the poor and the outcast… strengthened my determination to use journalism as a weapon against all kinds of abuse. For there is no better weapon than words for restoring peace and justice among people…”
“To have the privilege of writing taken away from you overnight feels like being victim of a crime…”
“During a lecture I once gave to students from a well-known university in New York, the director of the school of journalism made the following remark: “Mr. Njawe, my students and I appreciated your brilliant exposé of the situation regarding press freedom in Cameroon and in Africa in general. But I cannot help wondering one thing: either you invented all these stories to impress us, which I could understand, or everything you have told us is true and I am dying to ask you why you continue to work in the profession in the suicidal situation you describe?”
“It is indeed difficult to understand why people persist in a profession that causes them so much misery and suffering. As regards my own case, I invariably reply to everyone who wonders this, that I entered journalism the way you enter a religion; journalism is my religion. I believe in it, and a thousand trials, a thousand arrests, a thousand imprisonments and as many death threats will never make me change job. On the contrary, the harder it is, the more you have to believe in it and cling to it.”
“Even in the depths of a prison cell you can feel good about being a journalist. How many times have I not rubbed my hands in my cell, my fingers itching to once again hold a pen between them, when thinking back over my career? How many times have I smiled when recalling an editorial or an article that helped foil the most atrocious plans against Cameroon and its people? If only for consolation, one sometimes ends up saying: “They’re right to take it out on me like this, after all, I haven’t spared them in my articles…“. ”
Respecting ethical standards is of fundamental importance for anyone wishing to be a journalist. It protects you against all kinds of people who would like to teach you a lesson. When you are facing a judge who is being manipulated, it is your irreproachable professional defense that makes that judge examine his or her own conscience. It is what wins your colleagues over to your cause when you are in difficulty. Doing your job properly therefore seems to be the best advice anyone can give a journalist operating in a context of constant harassment. And doing your job properly also, and above all, means avoiding “gumbo journalism“, a practice becoming increasingly widespread in our profession, where people write what they are paid to write instead of giving real information and the truth. While journalists have the right to earn a decent living, even in emerging nations, honest journalists never need pockets in their shrouds…
Journalists perform a social function, which gives them not immunity, but the right to look critically at the way a nation is being run. While playing this crucial role, it is important for them to be protected by the law, but also by the whole of society for which they work… Every time a journalist is silenced, society loses one of its watchdogs.