On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, Jude Viban, National President of the Cameroon Association of English-speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ) said the Samuel Wazizi impunity case is one of many for journalists in Cameroon.
He says it is especially so for those living in the troubled regions of the North West and South West and covering the Anglophone Crisis which is stretching into its fourth year.
“The belligerent sides have been unleashing untold terror on journalists. Media workers are also arbitrarily arrested and detained or abducted, as well as tortured in detention facilities,” he said.
“The safety of journalists in Cameroon is at risk. Journalists covering the September 22 protests of the opposition in Douala, Yaounde, and Bafoussam were brutalized, arbitrarily detained and their equipment reportedly vandalized by security operatives. No perpetrator has so far been held accountable.”
Such attacks on the press undermine Cameroon’s opportunity to grow its fragile democracy, he said in a statement this November 2.
“When journalists are not safe, reporting meaningful stories is shelved and citizens do not have the information to make evidence-based decisions. Attacks on journalists work towards covering up the truth. This creates a breathing ground for misinformation, abuse of power, and public mistrust,” said Viban.
The CAMASEJ President adds: “On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, I call on Cameroon authorities to immediately order an independent probe into Samuel Wazizi’s death and let justice take its course. The government should also investigate other targeted attacks against journalists and ensure that such do not happen again. Conflicting parties in the North West and South West Regions must refrain from crimes against media workers.”
The suspense has been going on for five months and still counting. The whereabouts of the body of a Cameroonian journalist Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe popularly known as Samuel Wazizi is not known. According to Cameroon ministry of defense, Samuel Wazizi died in Yaoundé while in detention.
In a statement in June 2020, Cyrille Serge Atonfack Nguemo, the head of the communication unit at the ministry of defense said “Samuel Wazizi died in a hospital in Yaoundé on the 17th of August 2019 from severe sepsis, and not military torture as speculated on the social media”.
According to the spokesperson of the ministry of defense, Wazizi’s family turned down a request to get the corpse. A statement the family described as false.
Five months after the declaration of Wazizi’s death, family, colleagues, politicians, human rights defenders, and defense lawyers have been calling on the government to at least provide the corpse for burial.
Speaking to Mimi Mefo Info on phone, Henry Abuwe, senior brother of Samuel Wazizi said “The pains of not seeing the corpse of my brother is what our family can no longer deal with. We are helpless. We have cried, we have prayed yet there is no headway to get the body of Samuel Wazizi for a befitting burial. We are Africans and how we handle the dead is not a trivial issue”.
As the family feels the pains of what it has described as “the missing corpse” of Wazizi, relatives express indignation that they have been threatened by unidentified individuals on phone and physically asking them to stop demands for the body to be provided. “Today I don’t longer live in my house. I have taken refuge somewhere for my safety and that my family”.
A team of defense lawyers for Samuel Wazizi says they are bordered given that justice has not been served to their client even at death. To Barrister Edward Lyonga, one of the defending lawyers, “The state of Cameroon has not issued any official statement to the lawyers and Wazizi’s family on where to find the corpse. There is no way forward as of now. We are only getting rumors that the president of the republic has ordered for an investigation but nothing as such has been mentioned officially.”
At this juncture, defending lawyers say they have not relented their efforts in seeking justice through the judiciary. “We filed an application in Fako High court in Buea asking the court to order the state to put in place an independent inquiry with defense lawyers and the family involved. But the recent transfer of judges after the holding of the higher judicial council in August 2020 has further delayed the process. New judges have been appointed at the Fako High Court in Buea. We prayed that new judges should quickly study the file and implement what we are demanding in the application”.
The indignation of journalists
Trade unions and associations of journalists in Cameroon continue to decry what they call the poor handling of what is today known as ‘Wazizi affair’. Accused by the ministry of defense of assisting separatist fighters in Fako Division in the South West region of Cameroon, Samuel Wazizi was arrested on the 2nd of August 2019. He was never tried in any court until his death was announced by the spokesperson of the military. Journalists in Buea, South West region where Wazizi was arrested worked closely with defense lawyers to ensure justice for their colleagues to no avail. They have not relented, even months after the announcement of the death of Wazizi.
Months after the government announced the death of the journalist in Yaoundé, the president of Cameroon Journalists Trade Union (CJTU) South West chapter regretted that nothing more has filtered from the government.
Jato Derick, writing to Mimi Mefo Info on WhatsApp said, “We are yet to be briefed on any development from when he was declared dead but sources say an investigation has been secretly going on as instructed by the head of state”. According to the journalist, the wish of the media family in Buea and the entire country is “…his corpse should be provided”.
In the same vein, the national president of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ) admits that the government has not issued any official statement to the association on the whereabouts of the body of Wazizi. To Jude Viban, the media family is still waiting and wish the corpse be provided to the family for proper burial.
Aljazeera quotes Reporters Without Borders as saying that, “we call on Cameroon authorities to end the intolerable silence around this case, to return the journalist’s body to his family and conduct a thorough, independent investigation to establish the chain of responsibility and circumstances leading to this tragedy”.
Following the arrest, incommunicado detention, and subsequent death of Samuel Wazizi, journalists in Cameroon and those reporting the Anglophone crisis, in particular, say they live in constant fear given that the state can tag them as terrorists.