In a press release made on Tuesday, the United Nations Human Rights Spokesperson Seif Magango expressed the organisation’s concern over the killing of a second journalist in Cameroon in 2 weeks.
“The Cameroonian authorities must take all necessary measures to create an enabling environment for journalists to work without fear of reprisal, and to uphold the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in international human rights law, and also set out in Cameroon’s Constitution. A free, independent, and diverse media environment is vital in ensuring citizens are informed and can hold public institutions to account,” Magango appealed.
The latest victim was Jean-Jacques Ola Bebe, a radio presenter and reverend father whose body was found dead on 2nd February. He was reportedly gunned down by unknown attackers near his home in Mimomban district of the capital city Yaoundé.
Just 11 days prior, the mutilated body of prominent journalist and director of Amplitude FM Arsene Salomon Mbami Zogo—more popularly known as Martinez Zogo—was found outside a gendarmerie station also in the capital city. Zogo had been captured on 17th January, just 5 days before his body was found.
Both Bebe and Zogo were said to be “outspoken voices against corruption” as they had used their platforms to criticise cases of alleged misappropriation of public funds by a media outlet with government ties.
Bebe, who was a close associate of Zogo, had championed the call for justice and accountability for Zogo’s murder before his own demise.
In the release, the UN also mentioned that Cameroonian President Paul Biya had ordered investigations into Zogo’s killing and consequent arrests had been made.
The organisation further implored the Cameroonian authorities to take the Bebe killing with the same earnestness by carrying out thorough and impartial investigations.
Globally, UNESCO reported a 50% increase in killings of journalists in 2022, the highest numbers being in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Is the Press Really Free in Cameroon?
Zogo’s death immensely shook the country’s press and concretised the danger of reporting similar pressing matters.
“Cameroonian media has just lost one of its members, a victim of hatred and barbarism…Where is the freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression in Cameroon when working in the media now entails a mortal risk?" the country’s trade union of journalists said in a statement.
However, even before the killing, there had been various reports of attacks against journalists.
According to the UN, at least three other journalists from the Central African country reported that they had received anonymous threats in January alone.
Ironically, President Biya, who reportedly ordered the investigations into Zogo’s killing, has been notorious for repressing public opposition since he got into power 40 years ago.
Biya’s wife Chantal had a man (Bertrand Tayou) thrown in prison in 2010 for writing a book chronicling her rise from humble origins to becoming the First Lady and attempting to hold a public reading of the book.
Tayou was sentenced to 2 years in prison on charges of “insult to character” and organising an “illegal demonstration”, as he was unable to pay the fine of $4,371, about 2 million CFA at the time.
He was later released in May 2011 when the London chapter of International PEN, a worldwide association of writers agreed to pay his fine so he could seek treatment for his poor health condition.
President Biya himself had Michel Thierry Atangana, a French citizen of Cameroonian origin, imprisoned in 1997 on accusations of public funds embezzlement.
However, the charges were said to be a farce as the real reason for his arrest was his support of presidential candidate Titus Edoza, Biya’s opposition.
Atangana was put on trial without a lawyer and detained in a makeshift prison in Yaoundé. He was not released until Biya issued a personal decree in 2014, 17 years after.