Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about the fate of a TV presenter known as Samuel Wazizi in Buea, the capital of Cameroon's English-speaking South-West Region, who has not been seen alive since shortly after his arrest in August 2019. Like his lawyers, RSF wonders whether he will finally be produced in court today.
After months of legal battles and a sit-in outside the Fako high court in Buea on 14 May, Wazizi's lawyers finally won the right to present a habeas corpus petition in court. This petition, which RSF has seen, requires the soldiers holding him to bring his "body whether dead of alive" to the Fako high court today. But his lawyers, who have had no access to him since last August, are not optimistic. When reached by telephone, one of them, Samuel Abuwe Ajiekha, said: "As he was not made available to the court yet, he is most likely dead already."
A popular presenter on privately owned Chillen Media Television (CMTV), Wazizi, whose real name is Samuel Abuwe Ajiekha, was held at Muea police station in Buea for the first five days after his arrest on 2 August 2019. But on 7 August, his lawyers learned that he had been handed over to the 21st Motorized Infantry Battalion in Buea, where he has been held incommunicado ever since. No one has ever been allowed to see him in the battalion's headquarters and no one, neither his family, friends, colleagues or lawyers, has been told anything about his fate. According to the information obtained by RSF, Wazizi is accused of speaking critically on the air about the authorities and their handling of the crisis in Cameroon's English-speaking regions, where clashes between soldiers and separatists calling for independence or more autonomy have left more than 3,200 dead and displaced 700,000 others in the past three years.
"This journalist's incommunicado detention and the complete lack of news about him make us fear the worst," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "If he is still alive, there is no justification for the army to hold him without allowing his family and lawyers to see him and without producing him in court. He is being held in a completely illegal manner and in violation of the most basic principles of law. If no proof of life is provided and if he is not produced in court today, the concern about his fate will increase. We urge the Cameroonian authorities to end the long months of silence and to shed all possible light on this case."
Journalists are often detained arbitrarily and prosecuted before special courts in Cameroon. The victims have included RFI Hausa-language correspondent Ahmed Abba, who was held incommunicado for several months, tortured by intelligence officials, and threatened by a military court with the death sentence before finally being released in December 2017, after being detained for a total of 29 months.
Amadou Vamoulké, the former head of Cameroon's state radio and TV broadcaster CRTV, who has been held provisionally for nearly four years, was brought before a special criminal court in Yaoundé for the 30th time on 26 May. Although aged 70 and ill, he was not one of the detainees released last month by President Paul Biya to reduce prison overcrowding during the coronavirus epidemic. At least one coronavirus case has already been identified in the Yaoundé prison where he is being held. After asking for months for him to be medevacked, RSF has just referred his case to the UN special rapporteur on the right to health.
Cameroon is ranked 134th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.