YAOUNDE - Cameroonian rights and press groups are alleging a military cover-up in the death of journalist Samuel Wazizi, after the military on Monday refused to hand over his body to the family. Cameroon's military in June admitted Wazizi had died at a military hospital in August last year after months of silence on his whereabouts or condition. Supporters of Wazizi, who was arrested for allegedly collaborating with anglophone rebels, have accused the military of torturing him to death — a charge they deny.
Spokesman for Cameroon’s military Serge Cyrille Atongfack says they will not hand over the body of journalist Samuel Wazizi to his family any time soon.
Atongfack says no family member or lawyer can have access to Wazizi's body now because it has been sealed. He says the body was sealed to allow investigators to determine the cause of death, as ordered by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya. Before Biya ordered the investigation, says Atongfack, Wazizi's family had 10 months to remove the journalist's body from the mortuary but they refused.
Wazizi family member and spokesman Tah Javis rejects Atongfack’s claim, which conflicts with the public record.
He notes the family had been seeking the journalist’s whereabouts since his arrest and disappearance last August, when they filed a complaint, but authorities did not respond.
The military — under public pressure — in June finally admitted that Wazizi had died at a military hospital just days after his arrest.
Javis says the family immediately went to court.
"The family filed a case in court for the court to actually grant that Wazizi's body be handed over to the family or be brought to Buea," he said. "The person who actually kept the corpse in the mortuary was the government. And, till now, the government has not contacted the family officially."
French Ambassador to Cameroon Christophe Guilhou said President Biya in a June 5 meeting promised an investigation to determine the cause of Wazizi's death.
Family members, their lawyers, and colleagues accuse the military of torturing and killing Waizizi — a charge the military denies.
President of the National Trade Union of Cameroon journalists Denis Kwebo says the military’s months of silence and refusal to hand over the body is clearly a cover-up.
He says the government confiscated the body of Samuel Wazizi to hide evidence of torture the journalist underwent before the military killed him. Journalists are reiterating that a national, independent commission should be set up, says Kwebo, to investigate what killed Samuel Wazizi.
Wazizi was a presenter for Chillen Media Television based in the southwestern town of Buea.
Cameroon’s military arrested Wazizi in Buea for allegedly supporting anglophone rebels who want independence from the French-speaking majority.
Cameroon’s four-year separatist conflict in its western regions has displaced more than half a million and left over 3,000 people dead.
Rights groups have accused both sides of committing atrocities in the conflict, including abductions and murders of civilians.