Cameroon: after the assassination of a journalist, anger and fear among his peers

Prince Nguimbous hides neither his anger nor his fear. A poster on his stomach: “If I speak, I die”, he pays a last tribute on Monday, like a hundred Cameroonian journalists, to Martinez Zogo, kidnapped and found dead, his body mutilated.

His brothers and sisters came to lay flowers and candles at the headquarters of his private radio station Amplitude FM, in Yaoundé, where he hosted a daily program denouncing racketeering and corruption in this Central African country ruled with an iron fist since more than 40 years by the same man, Paul Biya, and his all-powerful party.

Abducted on January 17 in the suburbs of the capital, in front of a gendarmerie station, Arsène Salomon Mbani Zogo, known as “Martinez”, 50, was found dead five days later on Sunday. “His body has obviously suffered significant abuse,” the government said.

“A respected journalist (…), he regularly denounced alleged embezzlement by well-known personalities, particularly in the business world. His probable assassination adds to the too long list of people killed, assaulted, convicted or intimidated in Cameroon for speaking out about human rights violations, and this with total impunity,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Monday.

-“Terror”-

“He went to the gendarmerie, he shouted, but no one did anything,” said Chantal Roger Tchuile, director of the newspaper La tribune de l’Est. “It’s the reign of terror. We have the impression that if a journalist speaks, he will die”, abounds Prince Nguimbous in front of the AFP correspondent.

Tribute by journalists to their murdered colleague Martinez Zogo, at the premises of Radio Amplitude FM, in Yaoundé, on January 23, 2023 (AFP – Daniel Beloumou Olomo)

When the photographers are interested in him, his colleagues, all dressed in black for the most part, hesitate to join in his anger, some even deviate so as not to be in the photo. Because the fear, which undoubtedly wanted to instill the assassins of Martinez Zogo in the profession, is palpable.

“I have been told that I am a target, but I am surprised that the police have not yet approached me”, yet dares the director of the publication of a newspaper. But he requests anonymity, for his safety.

In Douala, the economic capital, tongues were loosened more easily on Monday within several groups of civil society and NGOs gathered for a press conference at the headquarters of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), in a country where journalists and opponents easily spend long periods behind bars, sometimes without trial, according to national and international NGOs.

“We call on the people to mobilize against this state terror established in Cameroon, to demand a rule of law”, asserts Philippe Nanga, representative of Un Monde Avenir.

-“Torture”-

Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, emblematic human rights activist and president of REDHAC, who reads their joint statement, denounces the “kidnapping”, “torture” and “assassination” of Martinez Zogo.

The “sponsors and performers”, “they are known”, she reads calmly. Without saying more.

The government, which usually never communicates for several days, issued an unusual press release the very day of the macabre discovery. Investigations are open “to find and bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime”, he promises, hammering: “Cameroon is a State of law, where freedoms are guaranteed, including freedom of the press”.

Tribute by journalists to their murdered colleague Martinez Zogo, in front of the premises of Radio Amplitude FM, in Yaoundé, on January 23, 2023 (AFP - Daniel Beloumou Olomo)
Tribute by journalists to their murdered colleague Martinez Zogo, in front of the premises of Radio Amplitude FM, in Yaoundé, on January 23, 2023 (AFP – Daniel Beloumou Olomo)

“Journalists have paid a heavy price in Cameroon since the State decided to roll back fundamental freedoms and installed the dictatorship. Grinding as they go and letting the predators of public funds grind all those who try to give the real information to populations who are plunged into misery because of their bulimia”, further proclaim the NGOs in Douala, citing the emblematic cases of imprisoned journalists or opponents.

“This is a serious blow to democracy and freedom of the press”, wrote the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday, calling on Yaoundé to “put an end to the climate of violence for media professionals”.

And RSF cites the case of Cameroon Web reporter Paul Chouta, a critic of power, kidnapped by several men on March 9, 2022, violently attacked before being left for dead on the side of the road.

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