Zambian journalist Humphrey Jupiter Nkonde disappeared on September 22, 2019, and police found his body on September 26, according to news reports and Nkonde’s brother and colleagues, who spoke to CPJ.
Nkonde, an investigative reporter at the Catholic-run Mission Press news outlet in Ndola, Copperbelt province, was last seen by his colleagues on September 22, one day before he was due to fly to Germany to attend the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, according to a Facebook post by the conference organizers.
October 3, police announced they had found a body near the Chilengwa Na Lesa dam, in Copperbelt province, on September 26 that had Nkonde’s passport in its possession, according to a report by local news website Africa Blogging. In their October 3 announcement, police said the body was unidentified and had decomposed, and that they had buried it, according to those reports.
However, when the body was exhumed on October 5, it was easily identifiable as Nkonde, according to Ferena Lambe, a Catholic priest and the director of Mission Press, who was present at the exhumation and spoke to CPJ via phone.
“[Nkonde’s body] was not in such a decomposed way that he had to be buried immediately as they claimed,” Lambe said.
Lambe added that he could not understand why police were so quick to bury Nkonde’s body and classify it as “unidentified” if they had found a passport in his pocket. He said he was suspicious of claims by police that Nkonde had taken his own life.
Nkonde’s brother, Rahim Nkonde, told CPJ via messaging app that he also did not believe his brother would have taken his own life. Rahim told CPJ that he thought it was odd for his brother to leave the house with his passport but not his wallet or phone, which had been left behind.
Nkonde had recently covered escalating food and fuel prices in Zambia for Mission Press’ Icengelo Magazine, according to Africa Blogging. Lambe told the blog that Nkonde wrote “sensitive and political stories” and said that his most recent story was “too sensitive, could it be the reason he is dead today?” Lambe did not specify which story he was referring to.
Lambe also told CPJ that Nkonde had covered violent incidents surrounding recent regional by-elections. He told CPJ that he did not know why Nkonde was killed, but said that his journalism could not be ruled out as a motivation.
Rahim Nkonde told CPJ in mid-December 2019 that police had conducted an autopsy on Nkonde’s body in October, but had not disclosed any findings.
Police spokesperson Mwata Katongo referred CPJ to Copperbelt Police Commissioner Charity Katanga for comment. When CPJ called Katanga in mid-December, she said that the police had concluded their investigation, the final autopsy results had been received, and the case would be submitted to the coroner for an inquest into Nkonde’s death.
Katanga said the police would not publish the post-mortem results, but that Nkonde’s family could approach the pathologist who conducted the post-mortem for more information.
Chanda Kasolo, the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services told CPJ via messaging app that Nkonde’s case was “still being actively investigated by the Zambian security wings” and said he therefore could not comment on the specifics of the case.