The West African Journalists Association says it is alarmed by the growing wave of cowardly aggression against journalists in the region and the deaths of at least three journalists in less than two months of 2020.
In Nigeria, Journalist Maxwell Nashian, of the government owned Federal Radio Corporation, died in hospital on January 15, where he was taken for treatment after he was discovered unconscious with serious wounds. Maxwell had been kidnaped by unknown attackers.
According reports, Maxwell was picked up from his residence in Adamawa State and found unconscious by a group of farmers in the early hours of January 15 with indication of being severely beaten with cuts on his body.
Nashian said his life was threatened in a message, police say they retrieved from his phone. His abductors also took away a computer from his house.
On January 21, Alex Ogbu, an editor with the independent newspaper, Regent Africa Times, was shot and killed while covering a protest in the Nigerian Capital, Abuja.
Eyewitness account says the police opened fire at protesters and a bullet hit Ogbu in the head, but the police claimed that the journalist slipped and hit his head on a rock. An autopsy report from the Nigerian government owned National Hospital showed that Mr. Ogbu died from bullet wound which shattered his skull.
In Liberia, broadcast journalist and talk show host, Zenu Miller, died at the ELWA Hospital in Paynesville on February 15, weeks after he was reportedly beaten by men in the security detail of President George Weah, known as the Executive Protection Service (EPS).
On January 26, Zenu posted on his Facebook Page: “I was attacked tonight at the SKD by EPS Officers in the full view of EPS Director. ghosh!!!!!!” He was returning from duty at the SKD Sport Stadium, where he was part of a team of commentators covering the national County Sport games.
The Press Union of Liberia quoted family sources as saying he died of hypertension. But Zenu’s wife said her husband died of internal bleeding as he complained of chest pains since his flogging.
WAJA welcomes President Weah’s offer to underwrite an independent autopsy on the body to determine the actual cause of death following mounting public pressure, but at the same time urged the government to launch an independent investigation into why Zenu was beaten in the first place.
“These deaths have traces of targeted killings and must never be swept without proper investigations to establish culpability. Governments can only excuse themselves from these attacks on the media and journalists doing their jobs if they acted swiftly to punish those involved or they stand guilty.” said WAJA President Peter Quaqua.
While extending condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased journalists, WAJA also deplores the closure of two private radio stations in Gambia by authorities. On 26 January, Gambian Police shut and raided King FM and Home Digital FM, and arrested four journalists ahead of Presidential elections, accusing the stations of broadcasting “incendiary messages” and “inciting violence”. But the Gambian Press Union (GPU) termed the police action as “arbitrary and unlawful”.
The West African media rights group reminds political leaders in the sub-region of their obligations to provide safety for journalists performing their duties under various regional and international instruments. The group warns that attempts to neglect those obligations can easily be understood at complicity.