CRNI’s 2002 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning was given to Paul-Louis Nyemb Ntoogueé, aka Popoli (“the people”), from Cameroon. The award was given in recognition of his many years personal sacrifice in the face of repeated attempts to silence him, and as part of our campaign to spotlight his case, and bring additional pressure on those in power to relent.
Popoli’s troubles with the government of President Paul Biya began in late 1991, when he was arrested and tortured for marching in a public demonstration for freedom of the press. Popoli was subsequently threatened with arrest in 1992, for a series of cartoons about government corruption, hiding in a swamp for 20 days until matters cooled down. He was arrested and interrogated again in 1996, before all charges were dropped.
From that point onward, Popoli became the target of escalating threats of violence. In August 1998 two strangers assaulted the cartoonist at his office. A few days later Popoli fled the country after being tipped off that he would be attacked again, this time along with his younger sister. The day he fled the country, officers invaded his house and left behind the written threat that they would kill him by a thousand machete cuts if he continued to draw “disrepectful” cartoons of President Biya and the First Lady.
After briefly seeking asylum in South Africa, and then through the Canadian Embassy in Pretoria, Popoli decided to return to Cameroon. As he explained to CRNI, “I’d rather be buried by friends in my village than continue to live in fear among strangers.”
Threats and pressure continued, escalating into violence again in late 2001, when Popoli was dragged from his car and severely beaten by Security Officers. Shortly afterwards he was arrested, ostensibly for a cartoon which referenced the First Lady’s long-rumored past as a prostitute.
CRNI’S CAMPAIGN: CRNI stayed actively engaged in Popoli’s case and protection from when he first contacted us from South Africa in 1998. We established a fund to help him pay for his daily needs during exile, and assisted in his efforts to seek asylum. We also connected him with a local human rights group, which provided him an office and computer to stay connected with his family and his publisher.
CRNI then sent letters detailing and protesting Popoli’s mistreatment to the United States Embassy, Cameroon’s Ministers of State and Public Security, and directly to President Biya.
We sent similar letters after the subsequent violations of Popoli’s human rights in 2001 and 2002, strongly urging the United States Ambassador in Yaoundé to personally bring Popoli’s case to the attention of his counterpart in the Cameroonian government, which he did.
Shortly afterwards, the harassment stopped. Popoli reported back to us that the same police who had beaten him before now approached him saying, “What good friends we are now, Mr. Popoli,” a clear sign that their supervisors had advised them he was now officially off-limits for further harassment.
CURRENT STATUS: In 2004 Popoli started the Cameroonian CRNI affiliate, Coup d’Crayon. He continues to live in Camaroon, where he remains a leading voice for the people in their fight against corruption, and for a free press and the free exchange of ideas.
PROFIL – Nyemb POPOLI – Pays by AFRICA24