Jean-Jacques Ola Bebe

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Radio presenter and commentator Jean-Jacques Ola Bebe, 41, was found dead near his home in the Mimboman suburb of the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé on February 3, 2023, according to Denis Omgba Bomba, an official from Cameroon’s ministry of communication and Pharel Ateba, a reporter with the privately owned broadcaster Galaxy FM, where Ola Bebe was a regular guest.

Although initial reports stated he was found dead with bullet wounds, four people familiar with some of the details of Ola Bebe’s killing  told CPJ that he had been badly beaten on his head and neck and had wounds that could have been caused by shooting or stabbing.  All asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. Bomba confirmed to CPJ by phone and messaging app on October 20, 2023, that Ola Bebe was not shot, but was killed with a blunt object.

Ola Bebe, who was also an outspoken Orthodox Catholic priest, was last seen at his home around 5 p.m. on February 2, when he told his partner Myriam Manga Essono that he was being followed by unknown people, according to Ateba and Biloi Abedi Thimothée, Ola Bebe’s younger brother, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

Bebe did not answer several calls from Essono after leaving the house later that day.

On February 3, a person who identified themselves as a gendarmerie commander called and told her that Ola Bebe’s body had been found, according to news reports and Thimothée.

Ola Bebe was a regular guest on local radio stations, including “Au coeur de la République” (At the heart of the Republic), a daily show for Galaxy FM, where he commented on current affairs issues, including politics and corruption, Ateba said. Ola Bebe also hosted a religious weekly show called “Le Jour du Seigneur” (The Day of the Lord) for Galaxy FM, according to Ateba, who added that Ola Bebe knew how to separate his role as a journalist from that of a priest.

Ola Bebe previously worked as a reporter for privately owned broadcasters Galaxy FM, Amplitude FM, Voice Radio, and Dunamis FM, according to Ateba.

Ola Bebe’s last appearance was on February 2, 2023, the day he went missing, as a guest on the daily show “Boîte Noire” for private broadcaster Mo’o TV, where he discussed the murder of Martinez Zogo. Zogo, the managing director of Amplitude FM, had been found dead on January 22 after going missing five days earlier.

Ola Bebe said that people had been misled about who was behind Zogo’s murder and that it was not Amougou Belinga, the media owner arrested in connection with Zogo’s death. Zogo had reported on Belinga’s alleged involvement in a public embezzlement scheme.  

In an undated audiotape of Ola Bebe published by privately owned Naja TV after his death and authenticated by Essono, Ola Bebe talked to an unknown interlocutor about his investigation into Zogo’s murder. Ola Bebe repeatedly expressed concern for his own safety and said he needed a safe harbor before he could “reveal what he knows” about Zogo’s death. “The truth must come out,” said Ola Bebe, who also asserted that prominent people had been feeding information and paying others to discredit and frame Belinga.

Ateba, Dominique Tita, a former colleague of Ola Bebe, and journalist Jean Bruno Tagne, who released the audio recordings of Ola Bebe on April 20, 2023, believe that Ola Bebe’s death was linked to his journalistic work on Zogo’s murder and the public statements about who was behind it.  

On February 11, U.N. human rights spokesperson Seif Magango called on authorities to ensure that Ola Bebe’s killing is “independently, effectively, and impartially investigated” and that those found to be responsible for the killing, at all levels, are held to account. In a February 17 statement, Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, also called for an investigation into the killing of Ola Bebe.

Bomba told CPJ that the judicial investigation into Ola Bebe’s killing was continuing and that no one had been arrested. It would not be known if Ola Bebe’s death was related to Zogo’s until after the inquiry was finalized, he said.  

Ola Bebe was buried in the Lékié department of the Centre Region on April 28. The results of his autopsy were not made public and his family did not wish to pursue the case in court due to unspecified threats, according to a family member and a journalist close to the family who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity.