By Macdonald Ayang, January 17, 2017
Cameroon Journal, Yaounde – Those circulating false and often incendiary information on the social media in Cameroon would henceforth risk imprisonment terms and fines if a recent campaign embarked on by government to dissuade social media users from spreading such falsehood is anything to be taken seriously.
Apart from Short Message Services, SMSs, which have in the last couple of days been sent to mobile telephone users cautioning them against spreading fake information through social media networks, the Minister of Post and Telecommunication has also sounded a warning that culprits of these acts would face the heavy arm of the law.
In a statement published Monday in state-run daily, Cameroon Tribune, Minette Libom Li Likeng, said the current campaign of sensitizing mobile telephony subscribers through SMSs on responsible use of the social media, a campaign that gov’t forced upon phone service providers recently, falls “within the framework of a campaign initiated by the government through the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication under the high supervision of the Head of State, Paul Biya.”
“Some of the information (on social media), be it true or false, is circulated at frightening speed and most often influences the opinion of the public which in most cases is capable of tarnishing the image of our country” the Minister pointed stated.
She further alluded to the laws that punish such acts of criminality, namely the Penal code, law no. 2014/028 of 23 December 2014 on the suppression of acts of terrorism as well as law no. 2010/012 of 21 December 2010 relating to cyber security and cyber criminality in Cameroon.
What the law says
Circulation of false information is a punishable offense in Cameroon. According to section 240 (1) of the penal code: “Whoever publishes or propagates by any means whatever any news without being able to prove either its truth or that he had good reason to believe it to be true, shall be punished with imprisonment for from 1 (one) to 5 (five) years and with a fine of from CFAF 20, 000 (twenty thousand) to CFAF 10,000,000 (ten million).” Paragraph two of the said section says “the punishment shall be doubled for anonymous publication or propagation.”
Section 113 of the same code states: “Whoever sends out or propagates false information liable to injure public authorities or national unity shall be punished with imprisonment for from 3 (three) years and with fine of from CFAF 100, 000 (one hundred thousand) to CFAF 2,000,000 (two million)
In the same light, section 78 (1) of law n° 2010/012 of 21 December 2010 relating to cyber security and cyber criminality in Cameroon states:“Whoever uses electronic communications or an information system to design, to publish or propagate a piece of information without being able to attest its veracity or prove that the said piece of information was true, shall be punished with imprisonment of from 06 (six) months to 02 (two) years or a fine of from 5,000,000 (five million) to 10,000,000 (ten million) FCFA or both of such fine and imprisonment.”
Paragraph two of the said section makes clear that “the penalties provided for in subsection 1 above shall be doubled where the offense is committed with the aim of disturbing public peace.”
Context of MINPOSTEL’s move
It would be agreed that in the last couple of months, communication via social media in Cameroon has spiraled especially within the framework of the ongoing strike action by teachers and Common Law lawyers which has now degenerated into a bigger crisis that is giving the Biya regime sleepless nights.
Prior to school resumption on Monday 9 January, which was, however, not effective in the North West and South West Regions, many messages including voice notes were circulated on Whatsapp and Facebook threatening and urging residents in the English-speaking Regions to stay indoors. Primary, secondary and other institutions of higher learning remain shut down in towns across the two Anglophone regions.
Just recently, when members of the Anglophone consortium were attending a meeting with the teachers’ ad hoc committee in Bamenda last Thursday and Friday, information soon went viral on the social media that the phones of
the teachers attending the meeting had been seized and that they were forced by government officials in the hall to sign documents against their wish. The information caused commotion in Bamenda as irate youths including bike riders immediately stormed the UP Station premises of the governor’s office to find out what was going on. It all turned out that the social media information was false.
Another recent incident of social media misinformation which embarrassed government was the Eseka train tragedy of October 21, 2016 where false information as well as photo-shopped pictures purported to be those of the train accident site were circulated far and wide.