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Cameroon, Eswatini, Rwanda: Three devastating days that shook Africa


And while the details of each case are still slowly coming to light, there are justified concerns that they were killed by the governments that they spent much of their professional lives critiquing.

With deafening silence from African leaders, and democratic powers outside of the continent sitting on their hands, their deaths will not be the last. Every unchallenged assassination further emboldens the use of violence and murder, putting more vulnerable human rights defenders at risk.

On 20 January, John Williams Ntwali was reportedly killed in an ‘auto accident,’ which many observers believe was a cover for political assassination. Ntwali was one of the few remaining journalists in the country who covered the many politicised trials of journalists, government critics, and opposition members.

Over the years, he had been arrested on trumped-up charges; regularly threatened and attacked in the pro-government media and online for his investigative reporting; and, in his own words, had survived a number of ‘staged accidents.’

Rather conveniently, the Rwandan authorities have so far failed to produce photo evidence or CCTV footage of the ‘accident,’ an extreme rarity in a country that has become a police state.

The following day, on 21 January, the brave and award-winning human rights lawyer Thulani Rudolph Maseko was assassinated. He was shot several times in his home, while enjoying a quiet night in with his wife, Tanele, and their two young children.

This brazen murder took place just several hours after Eswatini’s dictator-monarch, King Mswati III, had publicly warned pro-democracy advocates that mercenaries would “deal with them.”

Like Ntwali, Maseko was no stranger to death threats and attacks. He spent considerable time behind bars, including in solitary confinement, due to his efforts advocating for democracy and attempting to hold the monarchy accountable for its cavalier corruption, executive overreach, and myriad human rights abuses.

He is perhaps best known for challenging the monarchy – the last remaining in Africa – in the courtroom, often arguing that his fellow Swati people be treated as equal citizens with dignity, not the royal subjects that Mswati deems them to be.

Then, on 22 January, the body of Cameroonian journalist Martinez Zogo was found on the side of a road – naked, mutilated, and in a state of decomposition – after ‘unidentified attackers’ had abducted him after trying to enter a police station to escape his attackers.

Zogo, the editor-in-chief of the privately owned radio broadcaster Amplitude FM, had recently reported on a case of alleged embezzlement involving a media outlet with government connections.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented over the years, Cameroon is among Africa’s most perilous countries in which to practice journalism; many media practitioners have been arrested and jailed on spurious charges, ‘disappeared,’ or killed. The gruesome kidnapping and murder of Zogo is only the latest in a string of attacks against journalists in Cameroon under President Paul Biya’s dictatorship.

Biya, who has a decades-long record of repressing opposition and manipulating elections, is one of the world’s longest-ruling autocrats.

Rarely, if ever, has the fate of human rights and free speech on the continent suffered such a series of devastating setbacks in such a short period of time.

While Ntwali, Maseko and Zogo were prominent in their home countries, each one was also a beacon of hope and an example of courage that inspired human rights defenders across Africa, and in similarly authoritarian contexts worldwide. Each of them literally spoke, and wrote, truth to power: in the pages of newspapers and online outlets, on their radio broadcasts, and in the courtroom.

Source : The Africa Report