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Court documents allege Cameroon counterintelligence spied on murdered journalist Martinez Zogo

By Committee to Protect Journalists - Africa
Cameroon Maxime Eko Eko (left), the former head of the DGRE counterintelligence agency, and Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, a businessman and head of the L’Anecdote media group, are among 17 suspects set to stand trial in a murder and torture case, documents from which revealed that journalist Martinez Zogo was targeted for surveillance. (Screenshot: YouTube/STV Cameroon)
FRI, 08 MAR 2024 LISTEN
Maxime Eko Eko (left), the former head of the DGRE counterintelligence agency, and Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, a businessman and head of the L’Anecdote media group, are among 17 suspects set to stand trial in a murder and torture case, documents from which revealed that journalist Martinez Zogo was targeted for surveillance. (Screenshot: YouTube/STV Cameroon)

Dakar, March 8, 2024—Cameroonian authorities must disclose which journalists, in addition to murdered journalist Martinez Zogo, have been targeted for surveillance by the country’s counterintelligence service and ensure that spying on members of the media is immediately discontinued, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

The existence of a surveillance operation that allegedly spied on Zogo since at least 2015 was disclosed in a 20-page referral to trial document reviewed by CPJ. The document was part of a judicial investigation into the January 2023 kidnapping, torture, and murder of the popular radio host, which was finalized on February 29, 2024.

Seventeen suspects are expected to stand trial, on a date yet to be set, in a military court in the capital, Yaoundé, on charges including murder, complicity and conspiracy to murder, complicity and conspiracy to torture, complicity to kidnap, and violation of instructions, according to the document and news reports.

The suspects include:

  • Léopold Maxime Eko Eko, former head of the counterintelligence agency General Directorate for External Research (DGRE)
  • Justin Danwe, former DGRE director of operations
  • Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, an influential businessman and head of the privately owned media group L’Anecdote
  • Bruno François Bidjang, L’Anecdote managing director and news presenter for privately owned television station Vision 4

“The revelation that a surveillance operation targeted popular radio host Martinez Zogo since at least 2015 raises concerns about which other journalists have been surveilled by Cameroon’s counterintelligence agency,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program in New York. “Cameroonian authorities must make a full disclosure and ensure the end to all surveillance, physical or electronically, of journalists. The unfettered practice is not only a violation of journalists’ right to privacy but has serious consequences for source protection.”

Zogo was found dead on January 22, 2023, after going missing five days earlier. A week before his abduction, Zogo publicly accused Belinga of widespread corruption involving funds from the Cameroonian treasury during his radio show Embouteillage (Gridlock).

The court document reviewed by CPJ was prepared by lead investigating judge, Lieutenant-Colonel Pierrot Narcisse Nzié, the third investigating judge in the case who was appointed in December after the previous judge ordered the controversial release of Belinga and Eko Eko. The pair remained in detention after authorities claimed that the release order was fake.

The document describes how DGRE agents led by Danwe, under the influence of Belinga, allegedly carried out the kidnapping and torture of Zogo in Ebogo, a district of the capital Yaoundé, on January 17, 2023. Part of this team returned to the scene an hour later for a second operation that “resulted in Zogo’s death” by “strangulation and torture.”

The court document said Eko Eko denied involvement, saying Zogo was never a threat to him and the operation against the journalist was Danwe’s personal initiative; however, Nzié said Eko Eko could not claim this, as he had ordered the DGRE to surveil the journalist since 2015 as part of the “Presse” dossier. The court documents did not elaborate further but said the surveillance operation ordered by Eko Eko was confirmed by another witness, Emmanuella Moudie, the chief of the DRGE’s electronic surveillance division.

Zogo’s surveillance was also corroborated by Yves Saïwang, another suspect facing trial and an officer in the DGRE’s electronic surveillance division, who “bluntly” declared during questioning that Zogo was the target of the DGRE’s surveillance, according to the court document. Saïwang also said that since 2017, he was responsible for monitoring Zoga. Eko Eko had never taken any measures to prevent this and could not escape responsibility, Nzié said in the court document.

Saïwang also said he sent Danwe geolocation information about Zogo via WhatsApp and then received 20,000 francs (US $33), according to the document. Heudji Guy Serge, another DGRE officer who is also a suspect in the trial, said he, too, provided technical information to Danwe about Zogo and received 15,000 francs (US $25).

Denis Omgba Bomba, director of the media observatory at Cameroon’s Ministry of Communication, told CPJ that there was no surveillance “program” dedicated to journalists but that as Zogo was a public figure, the surveillance was a normal intelligence operation. Bomba added that the protection of journalists’ sources is not absolute and that the state can ignore this for security reasons.

Authorities charged Bidjang with conspiracy to torture, conspiracy to arrest, and kidnapping in relation to Zogo’s murder, according to the court document. He is detained in Yaoundé’s Principal Prison on separate charges of revolt, incitement to insurrection, rebellion, and spreading false news, his lawyer, Charles Tchoungang, told CPJ.

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