Bruno Jacquet Ossébi

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Ossébi, an outspoken columnist for the France-based
Congolese online newspaper Mwinda, died
in a military hospital in the capital, Brazzaville,
12 days after suffering second-degree burns in a mysterious fire at his
home that also killed his girlfriend and her 8- and 10-year-old children.
French Embassy press attaché Bertrand de Marignan told CPJ that Ossébi, who had
dual Congolese and French citizenship, died a day before a scheduled medical
evacuation to France.

Ossébi’s death certificate, obtained by CPJ, identified
the cause of death as “cardio-respiratory arrest.” No autopsy was done,
according to family members. An attending physician, who spoke to CPJ on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, said
that the journalist’s condition had been improving, but that burn victims are
vulnerable to sudden reversals during recovery. 

The mystery surrounding the origin and circumstances of the
fire, coupled with Ossébi’s activism in citizen journalism, led to numerous questions.
An official Brazzaville fire service
report identified the cause of the blaze as a “short circuit,” although Lt.
Col. Alphonse Yamboula, commander of the Brazzaville fire rescue center,
acknowledged in a CPJ interview that the finding was not based on any forensic
investigation. The landlord of the house ordered the burnt shell
bulldozed and cleared within days of the fire.

On February 25, then-Public Prosecutor Alphonse
Dinard Mokondzi appointed Jean Michel Opo, an investigating
magistrate, to oversee an inquiry. “A man has died in a fire; we want to
know whether it was of criminal or accidental origin,” Mokondzi told CPJ. The
prosecutor’s office took an interest in the case because Ossébi was a journalist
and “there is a lot of suspicion,” he said.

Just four days before the fire, Ossébi wrote a story
accusing officials with Congo’s national petroleum
authority of improperly negotiating a loan with a French bank, according to CPJ
research. Neither the government nor the officials named in the story,
including Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, the president’s son, publicly
commented on the story, according to local journalists. Alain Akouala, the
government’s minister of communication, declined to comment when contacted by

Ossébi was distinguished for his extensive coverage of an
international lawsuit scrutinizing the private assets of the ruling families of
Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial
in France.
Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization that organized the
lawsuit, confirmed the journalist’s interest in becoming a plaintiff.

Opo, the magistrate appointed to oversee the investigation,
told CPJ in May 2009 that a police commission had submitted a report without
witness statements. He was appointed to another position that month. A new
investigative magistrate, Jean-Louis Bitumbu, also declined to comment on the investigation.