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Martinez Zogo, left, and Jean Jacques Ola Bebe, right.  © 2019 Martinez Zogo and Jean Jacques Ola Bebe

The details of Martinez Zogo’s death are gruesome. His body was found in Soa, a suburb of the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé, on January 22, 2023. It showed signs consistent with severe torture, including electric shocks. The government released a statement saying he had “endured significant bodily harm.”

When an investigative journalist is violently murdered anywhere, alarm bells should ring and Zogo’s murder was met with widespread condemnation, in and outside of Cameroon. Several high ranking security officers, including some from the General Delegation for External Research (known by its French acronym, DGRE) have been arrested. Léopold Maxime Eko Eko, the agency head, is in detention, but still has not had access to his lawyers. On February 6, the authorities arrested another powerful figure, the businessman and media owner Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga, who is reported to have connections to high-ranking public officials.

On Zogo’s popular daily radio program, Embouteillage (Traffic Jam) he regularly discussed corruption cases, at times accusing and naming high-profile people, including Belinga. In the weeks before he was killed, Zogo said on the radio that he would issue a report naming people involved in embezzlement in public institutions. Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of what it was told was this report, which Zogo submitted to media before his death. In it, he calls for an investigation into Belinga for corruption.

Fair and transparent trials of all those accused in connection with Zogo’s murder need to be guaranteed and these recent arrests demonstrate that maybe, with all the public glare, the government will live up to its responsibility and genuinely seek justice. But the progress on Zogo’s case comes amid increasing danger for journalists. On February 2, Jean Jacques Ola Bebe, an Orthodox priest and radio host, was found dead in Yaoundé. According to media, Ola Bebe, who had called for justice for Zogo, told Cameroon's Galaxy FM Radio he was receiving regular death threats that he suspected were from authorities. The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern after Ola Bebe’s body was discovered.

Justice for both Zogo and Ola Bebe will send a strong message that those who kill journalists will be held to account. But equally important, the government needs to actively protect journalists who strive to expose abuses. Journalism needs to stop being a high-risk profession in Cameroon.

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