June 5, 2020 / 4:09 PM / a month ago

Cameroon military says missing journalist died in its custody

DOUALA (Reuters) - Cameroon’s military said on Friday that a journalist who disappeared last August in a part of the country where it is battling Anglophone separatists died in its custody weeks after he was arrested but denied that he was tortured.

The statement, read on national radio, was the first public acknowledgment by Cameroonian authorities of the death of Samuel Ebuwe Ajiekia, also known as Samuel Wazizi, who worked as a radio and television anchor in the South West Region.

The head of Cameroon’s journalists union said they last saw a healthy Wazizi in the first week of August after he was arrested by the police and were then informed a few days later that he had been transferred into military custody.

In the statement, army spokesman Cyrille Atonfack Nguemo said the military took custody of Wazizi on Aug. 7 after investigations revealed he was coordinating logistics for separatist fighters - charges his family and colleagues deny.

On Aug. 13, Nguemo said, Wazizi was placed into the custody of the national gendarmerie - a military police force. Soon after, Wazizi became sick and was taken to hospital in the capital Yaounde, where he died on Aug. 17, Nguemo said.

“He clearly died from a severe sepsis and not from any acts of torture,” Nguemo said, rejecting accusations of torture made by the head of the journalists’ union.

Nguemo also said that Wazizi’s family was informed of his death. But Wazizi’s brother, Henry Abuwe, denied that.

“It’s a lie,” he said, adding that his brother was “loved by everyone” and had never worked with the separatists.

Rights groups have accused both government troops and separatists of atrocities during the conflict, which began in 2017 after security forces violently cracked down on peaceful protests by English speakers against marginalisation by Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.

The violence over the past three years has killed an estimated 3,000 people and forced more than 700,000 from their homes, Human Rights Watch said in April.

Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Bate Felix and Alex Richardson

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