The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) condemns the death in detention of Cameroonian journalist, Samuel Wazizi and the ongoing attacks on journalists in the USA and UK.
In the US the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has noted over 300 media freedom violations since 26 May 2020 where reporters and camera operators have been punched or hit or their equipment damaged as they covered the protests against the murder of George Floyd. SANEF notes that journalists have been beaten, pepper-sprayed and arrested by police in numbers never documented in the US before. In the UK, a journalist was treated for head injuries in Westminster after protests got violent in London on 3 June 2020.
Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at the CPJ, states that what sets the past few days apart in the US, was the targeting of journalists by law enforcement agencies, even after they had identified themselves as members of the press. Some protesters and groups of “vigilantes” committed some of the violence wielding bats. This was according to the US Press Freedom Tracker, a non-partisan website of which the CPJ is a founding partner.
In terms of Cameroon, SANEF joins The African Editors Forum (TAEF) and CPJ in expressing dismay as regards the fact that the Cameroonian Defence Force, in whose hands Wazizi died, kept his death a secret and did not inform his family.
According to CPJ, Wazizi disappeared 10 months ago after he was taken by the police who then later handed him over to the Cameroon Defence Force. The Cameroonian Ministry of Defence stated on 5 June 2020, disclosing that Wazizi had allegedly died of sepsis on 17 August 2019. The family was only told on 3 June 2020.
SANEF calls on the President of Cameroon Paul Biya as well as the African Union to launch an independent investigation into the death of Wazizi and the subsequent cover-up by the army.
SANEF supports the remarks made by TAEF Chairperson, Jovial Rantao. Rantao stated, “The time has arrived for the harassment, intimidation and killing of journalists by members of the Cameroonian Defence Force to come to an end. These acts of crime visited upon journalists just for doing their work are reprehensible, and those responsible must face the full wrath of the law. We demand justice for Samuel Wazizi.”
Further, we support the statements made by Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa Programme Coordinator. She stated that “It is unbelievable that authorities covered up his death in custody for ten months despite repeated inquiries from press freedom advocates and his family, colleagues, friends, and lawyers”. She stated, “An independent autopsy should be conducted immediately, and Cameroon must also launch an independent commission of inquiry so that those responsible for Wazizi’s death are held accountable.”
CPJ has explained that Wazizi is the second journalist to die in custody in Cameroon over the last decade. In 2010 journalist Bibi Ngota died in Kondengui prison. His death certificate cited the cause of his death as a lack of medical attention while in detention. CPJ has confirmed that are seven journalists in jail in Cameroon.
SANEF would like to add its voice in calling on the government of Cameroon to immediately release journalists that are being held for their professional activities. We also call on African states to adhere to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, which calls on countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information. The African Union should also actively promote media freedom on the continent, in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other protocols.
Note to Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.
For more information please contact:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chairperson, (083) 399-2852
Katy Katopodis – SANEF Deputy Chairperson, (082) 805-7022
Moipone Malefane – SANEF Secretary-General (082) 772-5861
Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape Convenor (078) 041-9528
Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Gauteng Regional Convenor (083) 582-1734
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404