There has been growing condemnation within and outside Cameroon over the death of a local journalist, Samuel Abuwe Ajeakah, in military custody. The journalist who died under very murky circumstances in August 2019 was only declared death by the government on June 5, 2020, after a local television channel, Equinoxe TV, announced that the journalist, who had not been seen by lawyers, colleagues or family since the arrest, was indeed dead.
According to the President of the Cameroon Syndicate of Journalism, Denis Nkwebo, Samuel Abuwe, popularly known by his screen name as Samuel Wazizi, died after severe torture at the hands of soldiers in Yaoundé, the nation’s political capital. He has called on journalists to mobilize as they would be getting down to action to expose the culprits.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also condemned the incident and accused the government of Cameroon of being solely responsible for the journalist’s death. According to CPJ, Cameroon is one of the worst countries in the world to practice journalism.
However, the government of Cameroon, through the Defense spokesman, Colonel Atonfack Cyrille Guemo, has debunked all allegations and in a press statement said Samuel Wazizi was arrested in the Anglophone town of Buea because he was a logistician for armed Ambazonia separatists fighting for a separate state for the Anglophone minorities. He said Wazizi died days after his transfer to Yaoundé in a military hospital out of “severe sepsis,” The family was contacted but showed no interest in the body. According to the communication, Wazizi was in constant communication with his family until he died.
However, family sources had challenged the government’s version and said the last time they saw Wazizi was when he was just arrested in Buea and since he was transferred from the local police station to the military barracks and then Yaoundé, they have had no news of him. The family argued that had they been in communication with Wazizi and knew he died 10 months ago, they would never join his lawyers to file for a habeas corpus case for his release, a case which had been adjourned at least two times.
Many other human rights activists have cast doubts over the government’s version, including Barrister Felix Agbor, who himself was jailed for six months concerning the Anglophone conflict. “How come Wazizi died in August 2019, and the Government only informs us on 05/06/2020?” the lawyer, who is also Vice President of the African Bar Association, questioned. The American Bar Association (ABA) has also called on the Cameroonian authorities to shed more light on the journalist’s death.
Immediately the death of Wazizi was confirmed, France, which was the formal colonial master of Cameroon and with heavy influence on the political economy of the country, sent its Ambassador, Christophe Guilhou, to state house where he urged Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.
However, unlike the case of Jamal Khashoggi, that of Samuel Wazizi has not received any media or strong diplomatic attention. It has barely been mentioned in most mainstream media, and no Western country or African state has openly made a statement. This has ensured that the spirit of impunity reigns in Cameroon, especially as the law is openly violated against the powerless who have nobody to protect them or champion their case. Just as the news of Wazizi’s demise was being made public, another journalist was being whisked of, together with the wife in the Anglophone town of Bamenda, to an unknown destination. Colleagues and family members say it bears the hallmarks of the state agents.
Just like Jamal Khashoggi, Samuel Wazizi entered the state services alive and has never been seen. Arrested in the South West town of Buea in August 2019, he was later on transferred to the 21st motorized infantry battalion of the same town without family and later on to Yaoundé. After unsuccessful attempts to get him, lawyers and family members launched a habeas corpus case to release him. In all the court sessions, Wazizi was never present, and the last session took place in May 2020, wherein the lawyers pleaded that he should at least be presented to the public. With the case being adjourned by Magistrates, lawyers, colleagues and family members were still nursing hopes of seeing him alive until, on Monday, June 1, Equinoxe TV announced that the journalist died in August 2019 military custody. His colleagues have described it as the worst crime against a journalist in Cameroon for ten years. According to his colleague, Kum Paul, Wazizi’s crime was that he had a farm not far from an Ambazonia separatist camp. The government concluded without given him the possibility of defending himself that he was an accomplice.
Wazizi’s case is not an isolated incident as there are at least seven journalists in detention in Cameroon, most of them arrested in connection with the Anglophone conflict. Moreover, thousands of civilians have either been killed or imprisoned, with most of them never given a fair trial. Even though an investigation similar to that of Khashoggi can be introduced, the underlying factor to address is the Anglophone conflict itself, which has given birth to these situations.