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Press FreedomCameroon

In Cameroon, investigative journalists want more protection

Martina Schwikowski
January 24, 2023

After the murder of their colleague Martinez Zogo, a government critic, Cameroonian journalists have said they won't be intimidated and give up. Press bodies and media professionals are calling for better protection.

https://p.dw.com/p/4MciL

In memory of the popular radio presenter Martinez Zogo, radio stations throughout Cameroon on Monday aired the words the journalist had hurled at corrupt rulers shortly before his death: "You will surely kill me. The only thing you can do is finish me off. This is [President] Paul Biya's country, and everybody looks on and allows this to happen, because people are scared."

Zogo had also warned that he had documents that "say a lot." The managing director of the private radio station Amplitude FM said he would keep demanding that corrupt politicians and businessmen be be held accountable.

Journalist had threatened to expose corruption

Throughout December, Zogo had reported daily on his program "Embouteillages" that he had documents which allegedly proved that high-ranking public officials had stolen several million dollars from the state treasury since 2013.

He claimed that he had forwarded evidence of a "flood of embezzlement and corruption" involving a local media organization with ties to the government to Cameroonian President Paul Biya. According to media reports, media mogul Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, the owner of the TV channel Vision 4 and the weekly L'Anecdote who is said to have close ties to Finance Minister Louis-Paul Motaze, is one of those implicated in the case.

"To mobilize for Martinez Zogo is to fight for the rule of law," Cameroonian journalist Aboudi Ottou tweeted on January 22.

Dangerous environment for journalists

Zogo was receiving daily death threats from people he accused of being corrupt. On Sunday, his mutilated body was found in Soa, a neighborhood near the capital, Yaounde, five days after being abducted by persons unknown.

According to a statement by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Zogo tried to escape his attackers and flee into a police station, but was probably seized before he could enter the building.

In a press release, Cameroon government spokesman Rene Emmanuel Sadi said initial investigations indicate the reporter was tortured by his killers. He called the killing "barbaric and unacceptable," and called for more protection to enable a free press in Cameroon.

Media representatives described Zogo's abduction and death as indicative of the dangers of reporting on Cameroon. Ndi Eugene Ndi, president of the Cameroonian Association of English-speaking Journalists, said Cameroonians were shocked. This was "one attack too many," he said, calling for better protection of journalists in the country.

"Journalists should be able to do their work freely and fairly in a country that prides itself of being a democracy. They should not be attacked," Ndi told DW.

Vibrant press despite danger

The murder is the latest in a series of attacks against journalists in Cameroon. "Cameroon is one of the most dangerous countries on the continent for journalists working in a hostile and insecure environment," said Reporters Without Borders.

People reading newspaper headlines at a kiosk
Despite the high risk, Cameroon has a vibrant pressImage: -/AFP via Getty Images

Biya has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1982, suppressing the opposition. Cameroon is ranked 118th out of 180 countries, according to RSF Press Freedom Index.

Zogo's violent death has brought to his colleagues' minds the brutal murder of television journalist Samuel Wazizi, said journalist Ndi. Wazizi died in police custody in 2019 after frequently criticizing the government over its policies regarding the separatist crisis in the country's English-speaking regions. The government admitted that he died in custody. According to RSF, the journalist's body had showed signs of significant abuse.

In March 2022, Paul Chouta, a reporter critical of the government who worked for the private news website Cameroon Web, was attacked and severely injured by unknown assailants.

Not ceding to fear

Mua Patrick, a reporter for the Guardian Post newspaper, told DW he was "shaken" by Zogo's murder and regretted that journalists had become the targets of politicians and others. "They think that journalists should not perform their duties as they are expected to do. I'm in a panic because no one knows exactly who will be next," he said.

Anti-Paul Biya demonstrators in Paris hold up banners calling for the end of violence in the north
Free speech is safer from a distance, as these demonstrators at an anti-Biya demonstration in Paris showed in September 2020Image: AFP

Zogo's murder was an indication of how threatened the free Cameroonian press was, said journalist and activist Jean-Bruno Tagne.

"Unfortunately, Zogo did not know that there are people in Cameroon who act like mafia groups and execute anyone who disturbs them," he told DW. But he called on journalists not to be intimidated or give up.

Moki Edwin Kindzeka in Yaounde contributed to this report.

This article was originally written in German.

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