New exclusive and key testimonies obtained by RSF in the killing of Cameroonian radio journalist Martinez Zogo
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has managed to speak with several members of the Cameroonian intelligence unit implicated in radio journalist Martinez Zogo’s death. Was it a murder or a beating that got out of hand? Some evidence has shed light on the circumstances but other evidence seems to have “disappeared" during the investigation, casting doubt on the determination of the authorities to establish the truth.
At least 13 members of Cameroon’s General Directorate for External Investigations (DGRE) participated in the operation that resulted in Martinez Zogo’s death on 17 January. RSF has been able to talk to three of them, including the operation’s presumed leader, Lt. Col. Justin Danwe, the DGRE’s special operations director. Danwe, who RSF has met twice at Yaoundé’s main prison in recent months, has stuck to his original story.
He says he organised an operation designed to intimidate Zogo on the orders of Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, a prominent businessman known as AB. The director of Radio Amplitude FM and host of a very popular radio show called “Embouteillage” (Traffic Jam), Zogo had – at the time of his abduction – been responsible for revealing many details of financial scandals implicating members of the government and their allies, including Belinga, the owner of the L’Anecdote media group and two TV channels, Vision 4 Télévision and Télésud.
The case is far from being based solely on these statements, whose content was already revealed by RSF. It is also based on the statements of other detained members of the DGRE. One of them, whom RSF met in prison in recent weeks, said Zogo had been followed for around ten days prior to his abduction. He was tailed day and night everywhere he went by groups of seven operatives, who took turns to follow him. When finally abducted, he was taken to Soa, a northern suburb of the capital. It was there that they began to torture him after nightfall.
Zogo was then taken to the Belinga-owned Ekang building, which he would not leave alive. “At first, the aim was not to kill him,” RSF was told by one of the members of the DGRE unit who was present that evening. “At one point, I went to fetch him some water and, when I returned, his ear had been cut off.” More acts of torture followed. They were incredibly violent. He was beaten, mutilated, subjected to sexual abuse and even the skin from the soles of the feet was torn off.
Mysterious second unit
Amid signs of panic and haste, what happened during the next 48 hours, on 18 and 19 January, is confused. After being seen in the Ekang building on the evening of the murder, according to Danwe, Belinga was informed about the outcome of the operation, and was given a video of the acts of torture. What was to be done with the body? What was discussed and who decided? After two days of hesitation and procrastination, Zogo’s body was wrapped in aluminium foil and was taken by night, when no one could see, to a vacant lot with the aim of using acid to destroy it.
According to several sources close to the judicial investigation whom RSF has met in recent weeks, it was at this moment that a second unit, also comprised of DGRE members, arrived at the scene with the aim of ending this coverup operation. Surprised, the first group fled before completing their task. The second group deposited Zogo’s corpse on a dirt road in such a way as to ensure that it would be found. Who were the members of this second unit? How did they know what was going on? And why did they leave the body in plain sight?
In this deepening shambles, the death squad decided that the grey Toyota Prado that was borrowed for the operation should be returned to its owner. The latter, whom RSF was able to meet, discovered a military jacket and bloodstains in his car. It was now 22 January. Zogo’s body was discovered the same day. The owner quickly realised that his car had been used for an abduction and murder that was soon receiving a great deal of media attention.
Non-existent, inaccessible or removed evidence?
The conclusions of the two autopsies carried out on the body were revealing. In many media outlets, Belinga’s supporters had repeatedly questioned the body’s identity but the DNA tests carried out with samples from Zogo’s sister and son left no room for doubt. The body was indeed Zogo’s. The second autopsy also revealed a crucial detail: the presence of acid, especially on the face.
The investigation now seems to be concluding that this operation did not aim to kill Zogo. But there are nonetheless two conflicting versions. According to Danwe’s account, justice minister Laurent Esso – a dominant figure in the government – clearly told Belinga in a phone call to “finish the job.” At the same time, several sources who have had access to the judicial file highlight the absence of records of Belinga’s phone calls and messages. The other version is that of a security source very close to the case who thinks it was a beating that got out of hand. According to this source, a military chief warrant officer known as “Djoda” played a fateful role. It was “Djoda” who reportedly cut off Zogo’s ear. In his pain, did Zogo struggle violently, causing the beating to get out of hand? Or was he deliberately murdered?
More than six months after Zogo’s death, the 15 imprisoned suspects, including Belinga, who has been held since February, are charged only with “complicity in torture.” This smells of a “fix,” said a security source. Another source who has had access to the case file said it was “inexplicable.”
Many people close to the case are now beginning to doubt the judicial investigation’s sincerity. Some point to the absence of certain evidence, which has disappeared or was never included in the case file. Telephone data, in particular, had not been incorporated into the file several weeks after the investigation began. And there is no sign that this data is there now. It is inconceivable that phone records, which are essential to the success of an investigation of this kind, have not been obtained. Another source pointed to the "attempts to remove the Ekang building’s CCTV recordings” of 17 January. “What are they hiding? Who do they want to protect?” one of Zongo’s sisters asked during an interview with RSF. “I think they are trying to bury the affair.”
To be continued on the RSF website (rsf.org) on 4 August: (video) Martinez Zogo affair – signs of a rigged investigation. Reduced charges against the accused, evidence inaccessible or missing from the case file… Doubts about the official investigation’s credibility. Interviews with two lawyers and the journalist's sister.