RSF investigation into Cameroonian journalist’s murder one year go – chilling details and unanswered questions

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has continued to investigate Cameroonian radio journalist Martinez Zogo’s death one year ago, obtaining new information about this highly sensitive case, for which a third judge has just been named. Some of the accused revealed shocking details about the torture used in this operation to “silence” Zogo. But many questions about the roles of those presumably involved are still unanswered.

A year after Martinez Zogo’s murder near Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, RSF has obtained details from the official investigation file, including statements made under questioning by members of the intelligence unit that kidnapped Zogo –  statements that have never been released that shed light on the cruelty of the abuse inflicted on Zogo while adding to the questions still surrounding the case.

Who was in the know? Where exactly was Zogo murdered? What was in the messaging app records of Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, the media tycoon suspected of instigating the operation, which were deleted three days before his arrest? Why were the charges brought against the accused reduced to “complicity in torture,” thereby casting doubt on the honesty and credibility of the judicial investigation, which has been dragging its feet for months?

For the first time, RSF has been able to read the statements made by some of the members of the unit implicated in Zogo’s abduction and subsequent murder when they were questioned at the end of January 2023. The content is shocking. They describe in detail how the operation was carried out on the orders of Lt. Col. Justin Danwe, head of operations at Cameroon’s General Directorate of Foreign Intelligence (DGRE), and reveal shocking details of the appalling torture to which Zogo was subjected.

"Although the terrible account of the acts of torture suffered by this journalist is now known, the judicial investigation has been dragging its feet for several months. Many questions remain unanswered and much about this case still needs to be clarified. The new judge will have to try much harder to assemble the missing pieces while resisting all of the pressures exerted on this ultra-sensitive investigation because of the status of the suspects.

Arnaud Froger
head of RSFs investigation desk

The star host of Amplitude FM’s show “Embouteillages,” Zogo had already been followed for several days by LICLAN (clandestine liaison), a DGRE unit specialising in secret surveillance, when he was finally chased and then kidnapped on the evening of 17 January 2023 by five soldiers in two cars.

“He screamed for help. He was hooded. It didn’t last more than a minute,” said one of the participants in this kidnapping, when questioned on 27 January. Intriguingly, the members of the unit said they suffered a “general blackout” during their pursuit, making communication by WhatsApp or telephone impossible. Was the unit being monitored?

Appalling torture

The unit’s members said they took Zogo to the wood where he was found dead five days later. The torture lasted around 30 minutes. Zogo was badly beaten. “He tried to act aggressive, so we hit him from all sides,” said one of the unit’s members . “He was whipped with some electric wire and a club,” said another. “As he left, he said he was no longer going to do radio,” said a third, dubbed the “chief executioner” by one of his colleagues in the course of being questioned. 

According to a report seen by RSF that was transmitted on 23 February 2023 to the Yaoundé military court by the joint police-gendarmerie commission created at President Paul Biya’s behest, a cutter and a taser were used on Zogo, a baton was inserted into his anus, and his body was mutilated. In their autopsy report dated 10 February 2023, the forensic doctors reported nearly 30 injuries and concluded that the death of Zogo, who was identified by a DNA test, was “consequent to the multiple violence suffered.” These doctors referred to the place where his body was found as a “secondary crime scene” and said he had died more than 72 hours before the body was discovered. 

In their statements, the members of the intelligence unit all said the aim of the operation was to “correct” and “scare the journalist” and they all said they left him alive. Did a second team take over? This possibility was raised during the interrogations but was not included in the report by the mixed commission.

Close links confirmed between operations chief and presumed instigator 

Some light on the nature of the relationship between Lt. Col. Danwe, the DGRE’s head of operations, and Belinga, the media tycoon known as “AB,” and their presumed roles in Zogo’s murder, has been shed by the investigation and, in particular, by the transcripts of the interrogation sessions in which Danwe and AB were brought together, which RSF has seen.

The two men had known each other for several years. Danwe used to provide sensitive information to AB , who said under questioning that he used it to gain advantages from a foreign president. Danwe said that, at a meeting at AB’s home on 29 December 2022, AB asked him to “silence” Zogo, who had started to make allegations that AB had embezzled public funds. On this occasion, Danwe said he received 2 million CFA francs (around 3,000 euros).

Danwe and AB met again in AB's office in the Ekang building on 16 January, the day before Zogo’s abduction to “take stock of the preparations for the operation,” according to Danwe’s statements. On 18 January, Danwe returned to AB’s office to give him a report, and he said that, on this occasion, he provided AB with three short videos of the abuse inflicted on Zogo, in one of which, Zogo said he would cease to work as a journalist. AB disputes the content of these conversations. The fact that the meetings took place were confirmed by video surveillance footage screened during these interrogation sessions.

On 23 January, the day after Zogo’s body was found, the two men met again, according to Danwe. While insisting that Zogo had been left alive, Danwe said he wondered whether there had been a “coup within the coup,” to which AB reportedly replied: “Anyway, he was meant to end up like that.”

Enormous pressure on the investigation

Investigators seized more than 15 phones belonging to AB and members of his family without managing to recover his messages with Danwe. The noose tightened on AB after Danwe was arrested on 3 February. RSF confirmed that his Telegram, WhatsApp and iCloud accounts were deleted from one of his main phones seized by investigators. He was arrested three days later. What did these messages contain? Neither the investigators nor any of the successive judges seem to have been able to answer this question until now. 

A year later, the scene of the murder has not been formally identified, the full results from the analyses of the seized phones are still awaited, and the roles of those presumably involved have still not been pinned down. Two judges have already been dismissed from the case, the second of them after trying to release two of the leading suspects, AB and former DGRE chief Léopold Maxime Eko Eko – an extraordinary development that speaks to the enormous pressure being exerted on this case and the obstacles preventing this journalist’s murder from being solved.

138/ 180
Score : 45.58
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Updated on 17.01.2024