By: E&P Staff
Cameroonian editor and publisher Pius Njawé died July 12 in a car accident near Norfolk, Va. He was 53.
In 1993 the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers bestowed on Njawé its highest honor, the Golden Pen of Freedom, for his reports on corruption and other sensitive topics, for which he had been imprisoned 126 times.
Njawé was in this country to attend a forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a Cameroonian pro-democracy advocacy group, and was traveling to visit relatives when he died, according to a report late last week by Adam Bernstein, staff writer at The Washington Post. Njawé also belonged to the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which works on cross-border investigative stories.
Njawé’s car had stopped and was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer, according to state police, who continued to investigate the accident.
In 2000, the Austria-based International Press Institute listed Njawé among 50 world press freedom heroes of the previous half century, calling him “one of Africa’s most courageous fighters for press freedom.”
Njawé became the youngest African editor at the age of 22 when he began publishing Le Messager, Cameroon’s first newspaper, which also would become its most popular. The newspaper focused on government corruption, particularly diversion of oil revenues.
“His courage was simply astonishing: he was arrested and frequently jailed in Cameroon for revealing and contesting the abuses of the regime,” World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers Global Affairs Director General Timothy Balding said in a July 19 statement. Balding recalled Njawé, telling him, “The most stupid thing the government ever did was to send me to prison,” because it only ensured that he would never end his struggle against repression of a free press.
The Post’s Bernstein reported that Cameroon officials had confiscated copies of Le Messager and closed its offices, and that death threats forced Njawé and his family to live for a year in Benin, 500 miles away. Harassment continued upon his return, when he launched a press freedom organization.
Police even beat Njawé’s wife, Jane, when she delivered food to him in prison. Nine months pregnant, she lost their baby. In 2002, Jane also died in a traffic accident, in Cameroon.