“It’s trite, but murder is the ultimate form of censorship," Committee to Protect Journalists' Angela Quintal told VOA. "There can be no doubt that when journalists are killed with impunity there is a chilling effect."
“The lack of consequences for those who kill, or harm journalists obviously also emboldens others who believe they too can get away with it or allows those who threaten journalists to continue to do so,” she added.
A rash of killings across Africa has renewed focus on the risks facing those working to expose wrongdoing.
The killings of two journalists in Cameroon and a respected human rights defender in Eswatini, along with the suspicious death of a well-known editor in Rwanda have raised questions about whether the perpetrators will face justice.
The cases also underscored the dangers of impunity — with such incidents sending an unsettling message to government critics and the free press.
In the case of Martinez Zogo, the Cameroonian journalist was forced into a car, having in vain sought help from a police station during the kidnapping. He was heard shouting “Help me, they want to kill me,” according to reports.
His body was found a few days later, naked, and badly mutilated.
The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that Zogo’s “fingers were cut off, his arms and legs were broken in several places, and a steel rod was rammed into his anus.”
Two weeks later, Ola Bebe, a radio host and priest, was found dead close to his home in the capital.
The killings prompted a U.N. Human Rights spokesperson to call on authorities to “take all necessary measures to create an enabling environment for journalists to work without fear of reprisal.”
The Cameroon cases were not isolated.
On Jan. 21, an outspoken critic of Africa’s last absolute monarchy, Eswatini lawyer and columnist Thulani Maseko, was shot dead through the window of his home.
Amnesty International’s Southern Africa spokesperson Robert Shivambu told VOA at the time that Maseko's death had sent a chilling message to pro-democracy activists and could signify an escalation in attacks against those who are openly seeking political reforms.
On Jan. 18, John Williams Ntwali, editor of Rwanda’s Chronicles newspaper, died when a speeding car hit the motorcycle he was traveling on.
The death of a journalist who had frequently faced threats in relation to his work raised questions among media watchdogs about whether it was really an accident.
Human Rights Watch noted that prior to his death, Ntwali had told a friend that he’d survived several “staged incidents” in Kigali, and a fellow Rwandan journalist told VOA that the night before he died, Ntwali had seemed anxious.
All three countries have poor records on RSF’s Press Freedom Index, with Rwanda placing 136, Cameroon 118 and Eswatini 131 out of 180 countries where 1 denotes the best conditions.
Still, authorities in each case have vowed to investigate.
This week, a Rwandan court identified the driver of the vehicle that hit Ntwali as Moise Emmanuel Bagirishya. A court convicted Bagirishya of involuntary manslaughter and fined him $920.
However, the trial was not open to the public and Bagirishya was not present for the sentencing.