Brutal killing of journalist Martinez Zogo highlights chilling environment for press freedom in Cameroon
One month ago, on January 22, Cameroonian journalist #MartinezZogo was found dead after going missing 5 days earlier.— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) February 22, 2023
Join CPJ and @wppressfreedom in calling for a transparent and credible investigation.@CPJAfrica #Cameroonhttps://t.co/jQlix64RYP pic.twitter.com/UeNJAkvEOs
Prominent journalist abducted, tortured, killed
On 22nd January 2023, the mutilated body of Arsène Salomon Mbani Zogo, popularly known as Martinez Zogo, journalist and director of radio station Amplitude FM, was found near Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Five days earlier, on 17th January 2023, unidentified assailants had abducted the journalist. According to VOA, Zogo told his listeners that he had received information that people involved in corruption wanted him dead. Zogo often reported on and denounced corruption involving prominent individuals during his morning radio show ‘Embouteillage’.
The killing of Zogo caused a national and international outcry, with civil society and press freedom organisations condemning the barbaric act. Close to one hundred journalists spontaneously showed up at a meeting with the Minister of Communication, René Emmanuel Sadi, on 23rd January 2022 to demand justice for Zogo. On the initiative of the largest journalist union in Cameroon, the Syndicat National des Journalistes du Cameroun (SNJC), journalists and media workers were dressed in black on 25th January 2023, marking a day of mourning.
On President Paul Biya’s orders, a mixed investigation commission, consisting of the Police and Gendarmerie, was set up to investigate the killing of Zogo, which led to the arrests of people suspected of involvement in the killing, including chief of the General Directorate for External Investigations (DGRE), Léopold Maxine Eko Eko. On 6th February 2023, further arrests were made in connection with Zogo’s murder, including businessman and owner of newspaper L’Anecdote and TV channel Vision 4 Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga. In his reporting Zogo had alleged that Belinga was involved in a public embezzlement scheme.
Second journalist found dead in Yaoundé
On 2nd February 2022, radio journalist and Catholic priest Jean Jacques Ola Bebe was found dead near his home in Yaoundé. Two days before his death, he reportedly revealed on Galaxy FM Radio that he was receiving regular death threats. Ola Bebe worked with several media houses and was reportedly outspoken about corruption. The circumstances of Ola Bebe’s death remain unclear.
According to the UN High Commission on Human Rights, at least three other journalists in Cameroon indicated having received serious threats from unidentified individuals in January 2023.
DECLARATION DU REDHAC sur l' affaireAMADOU VAMOULKE ; Journaliste et ancien Directeur Général de la Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) contre l’État du Cameroun,— @RedhacRedhac (@RedhacRedhac) December 22, 2022
Condamné à 12 ans de prison ferme par le Tribunal Criminel Spécial (TCS) de Yaoundé. pic.twitter.com/neVhCOFekN
Journalist sentenced to 12 years in prison and a hefty fine
On 21st December 2022, a special criminal court in Yaoundé sentenced journalist Amadou Vamoulké, the former managing director of public broadcaster Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV), to a prison sentence of 12 years and a hefty fine of 47 million CFA francs (approximately 76,000 USD), on charges of embezzlement, charges deemed by press freedom advocates as retaliatory for his management of the public broadcaster. Vamoulké’s lawyer, Alice Nkom, had said previously to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ):
“The official reason for his arrest is a pretext for trying to silence journalists in Cameroon … Amadou never accepted as black what he knew was white.”
As reported previously on the Monitor, Vamoulké was arrested on 29th July 2016 and was imprisoned for over six years before his sentencing. In April 2020, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asked authorities to release Vamoulké immediately as “the violations of the right to due process are of such gravity that they confer an arbitrary character on Mr. Vamoulké’s detention”. According to HRW, Vamoulké’s case was postponed at least 74 times by the court.
CPJ considers the sentencing as tantamount to a death sentence owing to Vamoulké’s failing health and his age of 72 years.
Intimidation of TV broadcaster and journalist
In a leaked letter dated 11th November 2022, Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji, reportedly asked the governor of Littoral region to take measures against Equinoxe TV journalist Serge Alain Ottou and member of opposition party Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC), Engelbert Lebon Datchoua, in relation to the latter’s “insulting, even defamatory” statements on Equinoxe TV. Datchoua had said that President Biya is "one of the worst misfortunes that Cameroon has ever known" in a broadcast on 3rd November 2022. In a statement by the Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale, REDHAC), received by the CIVICUS Monitor, the letter instructed the governor to request the national media regulator, the National Communication Council, to investigate the above matter; to interview Ottou and Datchoua within the framework of an administrative investigation at the behest of the Prefect of the Department of Wouri; and to suspend Datchoua from any participation in Equinoxe TV pending the outcome of the investigation.
Activist in Cameroon Detained Again https://t.co/aCBDRbTkSN— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) August 16, 2022
Peace activist arrested, held without charge
On 11th August 2022, military officers arrested Abdul Karim Ali in Bamenda, North-West region, and subsequently took him to the local gendarmerie station. He was held incommunicado for several days and then transferred to the Central Judicial Investigations Service of the State Secretariat of Defence (SED) in Yaoundé. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Ali was told he is accused of ‘apology of terrorism’, although there are no official charges, for having possessed a video on his phone allegedly showing human rights abuses committed by a military officer against civilians in the Anglophone regions.
Two other people, accused of being Ali’s drivers, were arrested: Ali’s cousin Rabio Enuah, who was reportedly arrested in Bamenda on 23rd August 2022, and Sulemanu Yenkong, an acquaintance of Ali, reportedly arrested on 19th November 2022 in Nkwen. Both are being held at SED in Yaoundé.
According to Amnesty International, there were still no charges or information from the justice system at the end of December 2022. The three had been presented twice before the Military Tribunal in Yaoundé but have never been presented before the state prosecutor. Additionally, Ali’s wife was forced to flee their home as she started to receive anonymous calls warning her to not to speak about Ali’s situation to actors abroad. Fabien Offner of Amnesty International commented:
“The detention of Abdul Karim Ali is taking place in a period where the Cameroonian authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest and detain those who criticise the government or denounce human rights violations in the context of armed violence in Anglophone regions of the country. The authorities must immediately present a legally recognizable charge against Abdul Karim Ali or release him.”
As reported previously on the Monitor, Ali was previously arrested in September 2019 in connection with his activism.
#MSF accueille avec soulagement l'acquittement de cinq de ses collaborateurs qui étaient jugés au #Cameroun, accusés de complicité de sécession. Quatre d’entre eux ont enduré plusieurs mois d’incarcération. https://t.co/1r4Idt7j1Z— MSF France (@MSF_france) January 11, 2023
Acquittal of humanitarian workers
On 1st November and 29th December 2022, the military court of Buea acquitted five staff members of humanitarian organisation Medicins sans Frontières (MSF). As reported previously on the Monitor, two MSF staff members – a nurse and a paramedic – were arrested in December 2021 in South West region while transporting an unidentified man with gunshot wounds. They were accused of complicity with secessionists and provisionally released in May 2022. In January 2022, two other MSF staff members - a community health worker and an assistant field coordinator - were arrested on the same accusations, while a project coordinator was prosecuted in absentia. Following the acquittal, the two staff members who were still in detention were released.
In a statement, MSF lamented the breakdown in relations with authorities, which prevent them from resuming activities in South West region. MSF activities in that province were suspended following the arrest and prosecution of their staff members.
HRD subjected to reprisals
According to news reports and a statement by REDHAC received by the CIVICUS Monitor, university lecturer and human rights defender Fridolin Nke was informed in July 2022 that he was no longer allowed to exercise his profession as lecturer at the University of Yaoundé 1. University authorities accuse Nke of “insulting” the President, members of the government and the university authorities, which, according to the latter, is against the “republican ethic”. Furthermore, Nke’s political activism, which could be seeping into his teaching, was another reason given by the university administration.
Civil society peace protest
On 9th December 2022, hundreds of people gathered in Bamenda, the capital of the North West region, at the call of the CSO COMINSUD (Community Initiative for Sustainable Development), who launched the campaign ‘A million voices for a just and peaceful society’. Protesters demanded an end to the violence perpetrated against civilians in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, in which at least 6,000 civilians have been killed, both by armed separatist groups and government forces, in the conflict that has been ongoing since 2017.