Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has asked three UN special rapporteurs to investigate exactly what led to the death of Cameroonian journalist Samuel Wazizi.
The government of Cameroon has announced that Wazizi died on August 17, 2019 while in military custody. He had been arrested in August 2019 for allegedly providing logistics to separatist combatants in the Southwest of Cameroon. Prior to the announcement which was made in June, the journalists fate was unknown to the public. His lawyer and family members were not allowed contact with the journalist during his incarceration.
Cameroonian authorities initially denied that Wazizi was in custody. Waziz's family says they have yet to receive his body from the government.
“I call on the authorities to shed light on the events that led to Wazizi’s demise and ensure that any contravention to his rights as a journalist and as a detainee are brought to justice," said Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in a statement in response to the announcement of his death in June.
Wazizi whose birth name is Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe was born on June 6, 1984 and was a cameraman and journalist for Chillen Media Television (CMTV) in Buea, Southwest Region of Cameroon.
RSF states that they believe Wazizi was targeted because of his critical reporting regarding the way the government was handling the conflict in English-speaking regions.
Journalists working in Anglophone regions have found it difficult to report on the conflict at times. A 2014 law enacted to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the north of the country critics believe is being used to silence journalists reporting on this seperate conflict. The two conflicts have offered severe challenges to the rule of President Paul Biya who has ruled the country since 1982.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned this practice, with Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Director stating that “Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press. When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal”.
No arrests have yet been made in the Wazizi case, but Quintal speaking to New Africa Daily asked for the release of other detained Cameroonian journalists:
“We repeat our call for the remaining 7 journalists in jail to be released. Several have been in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods. Wawa Jackson Nfor for more than 2 years and Paul Chouta for more than a year” she said over the phone, adding that “Some are in poor health, including Thomas Awah Junior. We wrote to President Paul Biya asking that he be released on humanitarian grounds. More recently we wrote to several African presidents, including Biya, to release the journalists amid Covid-19, Their continued incarceration in Cameroon’s overcrowded and shocking prisons, is a death sentence. That letter was co-signed by more than 80 media freedom and rights organizations”.
Cameroon ranks 134 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
RSF’s full statement can be read here (https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/un-allegation_letter-wazizi.pdf )