Family members of journalist Samuel Wazizi who died in military custody on August 17, 2019, are looking forward to identifying the corpse said to have been preserved at the military mortuary in Ekounou for ten months now.
But even as many are yet to come to terms with the tragedy, French Ambassador Christophe Guilhou says President Paul Biya has promised to open an inquiry into the situation.
We at Mimi Mefo Info have been examining the content of the communiqué signed on Friday by military spokesperson Commander Cyrille Serge Atonfack, alleging that Wazizi died of sepsis on August 17, 2019.
Although the statement denied that Wazizi had been tortured or abused, and said that the journalist’s family had been in contact with him in custody. Wazizi’s family members say they had not been able to contact him since shortly after his arrest on August 2, 2019, and was not made aware of his death until a news report on June 3.
Police arrested Wazizi on August 2, and transferred him to military custody on August 7, after which he was held incommunicado.
“The Cameroonian government’s cruel treatment of journalist Samuel Wazizi is truly shocking. It is unbelievable that authorities covered up his death in custody for 10 months despite repeated inquiries from press freedom advocates and his family, colleagues, friends, and lawyers,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.
“An independent autopsy should be conducted immediately, and Cameroon must also launch an independent commission of inquiry so that those responsible for Wazizi’s death are held accountable.”
The government claims that the journalist had to answer to terrorism charges. But why was he not taken to court and charged formally? If Wazizi were so much a terrorist, who was so interested in puncturing the process to prove him as such? Are we forgetful of many persons charged under the terrorism law who went to court and were proven innocent?
Why did the government transfer Wazizi from the police that has investigative and judicial powers to the military that has no judicial police powers? Why was Wazizi taken to Yaoundé when there are competent courts in the South West Region that could have heard the matter?
If Wazizi died of sepsis, as the government says, does it not suggest that it was the result of unbearable torture he received from soldiers?
And if they did not torture and kill him, why did the military cover his death for this long until the pressure has been brought to bear on them.
That Wazizi investigated military atrocities in Ekona in 2018 and the May 2019 killing of baby Martha by soldiers in Muyuka may just be the reason for his arrest and subsequent elimination.
In 2010, journalist Bibi Ngota similarly died while in government custody; his death certificate said he died from a lack of medical attention while in prison, according to CPJ research.
For the case of Wazizi, the government should be prepared to provide answers to the tons of unanswered questions. Justice must be served and never again should journalists be targets.
(C) Mimi Mefo Info