Cameroonian President Paul Biya has ordered a probe into the abduction and subsequent brutal killing of journalist Mbani Zogo Arsène Salomon who was popularly known as Martinez Zogo.
The lifeless body of 51-year-old Zogo, in an advanced state of decomposition, was discovered in the locality of Ebogo near the central African nation’s capital Yaounde on January 22, 2023, five days after he had been kidnapped by unidentified assailants.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the body bore signs of probable torture before he was killed.
In a leaked message to the ministry of defence, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the secretary-general at the Cameroonian presidency, said President Biya had instructed the National Gendarmerie to lead the probe in collaboration with the General Delegation for National Security. The National Gendarmerie is a military force in the country that also undertakes civilian missions.
In the letter dated January 27, but leaked on Tuesday, Ngoh Ngoh asked the defence and security forces to shed light “on the circumstances of the journalist’s death and establish responsibilities” and also “ensure the results are communicated to me for transmission to the Head of State”.
By the time of his death, Zogo was the director of Amplitude FM, a radio station in Yaounde with huge following.
The slain broadcaster was famous for his midmorning critical French language talk show, “Embouteillage” (traffic jam). He regularly exposed cases of alleged corruption and embezzlement of public funds on the show and had, prior to his abduction, reported on alleged embezzlement involving a prominent businessman in the country.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said attackers chased Zogo to the gate of a gendarmerie office near his home where he had sought help, but he was kidnapped even before he could get assistance.
The gruesome killing of the popular radio host has drawn global condemnation.
Condemning what it described as "heinous assassination", the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union (SNJC) said the radio host was a victim of hatred and human barbarism to which all journalists in the country are now vulnerable.
"Where is the freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression in Cameroon when working in the media now entails a mortal risk?" the union asked.
On Monday the Catholic bishops of Cameroon condemned the gruesome killing of the journalist, describing the act as “barbaric, inhuman, unacceptable” and urged Yaounde authorities to “shed light” on his abduction and subsequent murder.
Freedom of expression
“The state must guarantee and protect the freedom of expression, especially in a context where the political, social and economic situation does not allow for the full development of all,” the bishops said in a statement signed by Archbishop Andrew Nkea of the Bamenda Archdiocese and president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon.
Earlier on Friday, France condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the journalist’s gruesome assassination, insisting that “those who committed this act must be identified and be held accountable”.
The brutal murder of Zogo who served a two-month prison sentence for criminal defamation in 2020, is the latest in a thread of attacks on media workers in the country with a flourishing media landscape, yet problematic for journalists’ safety.
Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa Samira Daoud said Zogo’s “murder has to be added to the already too long list of people killed, raped, convicted or intimidated in Cameroon for speaking out about human rights violations, and this with total impunity”.
RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau director Sadibou Marong said all indications are that Zogo was deliberately killed.
“This murder of a journalist who was just doing his job must not go unpunished. We urge the Cameroonian authorities to conduct an independent investigation that does not falter, and to end the climate of violence against media personnel. Journalists must be able to work safely and without risk of reprisals,” Marong said.
Cameroon remains one of Africa’s worst jailers of journalists, according to the CPJ, and is one of the continent’s most dangerous countries for journalists to work in, according to RSF.
There is still a woeful lack of information on the death in 2019 of journalist Samuel Wazizi who was in government custody. Wazizi, whose official name was Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe, died in military custody in Yaoundé in August 2019, but the military only made his death public nearly a year later.
CPJ and Amnesty International were part of 10 human rights organisations which had in a June 2020 letter called for an investigation into the forced disappearance and murder in detention of Wazizi.
The results of the investigation that was apparently conducted by the military police and sent to the head of state have so far not been made public, RSF notes.