YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - There has been massive condemnation in Cameroon after the central African state’s military bowed to pressure from rights groups and journalists Friday and issued a statement that missing Cameroonian journalist Samule Ajiekah Wazizi died in a military hospital 10 months ago. Wazizi was arrested for collaborating with separatists fighting to create an English-speaking state in the majority-French Cameroon and had not been seen in public since.
Jude Viban, the Yaoundé-based national president of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists says he is scandalized that it was only after pressure from journalists, civil society groups and the international community that Cameroon’s military finally issued a statement that journalist Samuel Wazizi had died in a Yaoundé military hospital.
"We are now calling for an independent inquiry, which will involve an autopsy, so that we can know exactly if the cause of death stated by the Ministry of Defense is exact," Viban said. "Right now, we want to see the corpse of Samuel Wazizi."
The military said in its statement Friday that Wazizi, who was arrested August 2 in the English-speaking southwestern town of Buea for complicity in acts of terrorism, died on August 17. The statement said when the military transferred Wazizi from Buea to Yaoundé for further investigation, he became ill and was rushed to the Yaoundé military hospital, where he died. The statement further indicates that Wazizi, while in detention and before he died, communicated with his family and had access to his lawyers, and that Wazizi’s family was informed of dis death.
His lawyers and family said they never heard from him and none of them knew he died 10 months ago.
French Ambassador Christophe Guilhou says after getting conflicting reports about Wazizi’s death, he discussed the matter, which he describes as a human rights issue, with Cameroon’s president.
He says when he met with Cameroon President Paul Biya Friday (June 5), he discussed human rights concerns the French government had when it learned of Wazizi’s death and Biya promised to order immediate investigations to determine the true causes of his death.
Christopher Ndong, lawyer and rights defender, said the military killed Waizizi and that investigations should be opened. He says Wazizi’s killing is just one of many committed by the military on Anglophones suspected to have links with separatists fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in French-majority Cameroon.
"In fact, it is condemnable," Ndong said. "We have series and series of killings in Cameroon where the regime is killing and does not look accountable. They do all of that with impunity. We regret. Honestly it is not correct."
Wazizi worked for Chillen Muzik and TV. English-speaking journalists say his arrest, torture and death and the fact that the military hid his dead body for 10 months without a statement until pressured to do so show how reporters risk their lives in Cameroon.
The military says Wazizi is in a Yaoundé mortuary but Wazizis family members and lawyers say they have not seen the body.