CAPE TOWN- Cameroon’s military has refused to hand over the body of a journalist who died while in its custody to his family and has denied access to the body, saying it is sealed pending investigations into the cause of death.
This has led to allegations by Cameroonian rights and press groups that there was indeed a cover-up in the death of Samuel Wazizi, who died 10 months ago, yet this information was only made public in June.
After months of silence on his whereabouts or condition, the military admitted that Wazizi had died at a military hospital in August last year.
The journalist was arrested for allegedly collaborating with anglophone rebels. He was transferred to military custody on August 7, then ferried to the capital Yaoundé six days later, Cameroon’s military spokesperson Colonel Cyrille Serge Atongfack Guemo said last month.
Wazizi arrived in Yaoundé feeling feverish and died on August 17 due to an infection, the military said.
According to the Voice of America (VOA) news, Atongfack said they would not hand over the body of Wazizi to his family any time soon.
He said no family member or lawyer may have access to the body, because it had been sealed to allow investigators to determine the cause of death, as ordered by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya.
Before Biya ordered the investigation, added Atongfack, Wazizi’s family had 10 months to remove the journalist’s body from the mortuary but they refused.
Wazizi family member and spokesperson Tah Javis has rejected Atongfack’s claim, which conflicted with the public record.
He noted the family had been seeking the journalist’s whereabouts since his arrest and disappearance last August, which was when they filed a complaint, but authorities did not respond.
At the UN Security Council meeting on Cameroon and the Central African subregion last month, several countries expressed concern about Wazizi’s death while in military custody and urged the government of Cameroon to immediately investigate and bring the culprit to book.