Cameroon Bishop Tortured, Murdered

by Christine Niles  •  •  June 6, 2017   

Bishop of Bafia was about to expose government's link to priest's death

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A medical report is concluding that a Cameroon bishop, whose lifeless body was found in the Sanaga River Friday, was tortured and murdered before being thrown into the river. Media is speculating his death may be linked to his plans to expose the government's involvement in the death of a priest.

According to Cameroon media outfit L'Anecdote, which obtained a confidential autopsy report Monday, the body of Bp. Jean-Marie Benoît Bala of the diocese of Bafia shows clear signs of torture and murder. The leaked document reveals details of a medical examination conducted by a committee of doctors, one appointed by the national bishops' conference. The formal conclusions declare that Bala did not commit suicide, as previously thought, but rather that he was killed and thrown into the Sanaga River only four hours before his body was found Friday.

The bishop had gone missing Wednesday, his car found parked on a bridge over the river, with his personal identification cards within along with a note that read "I am in the water." The note led officials to believe he committed suicide, but after finding his body Friday 20 kilometers away from the car, a committee decided to perform an autopsy to determine the precise cause of death.

"The body removed from the waters of the Sanaga reveals that it had a stiffened arm, folded on its abdomen, a curious fact for a 'suicide,'" stated one of the doctors in the report. The autopsy revealed no water in his lungs, indicating he had already died before being thrown in the river. If he had committed suicide by drowning, his lungs would have been full of water and his body would have sunk to the bottom of the river — neither of which was the case when he was discovered.

According to Cameroon media, Bp. Bala was about to expose the government's alleged involvement in the death of Abbé Armel Djama, rector of the Minor Seminary in Bafia, Bala's own archdiocese, who was found dead in his room at the end of May.

The Catholic Church in Cameroon has suffered a number of suspicious deaths over the years:

  • In October 1988, Fr. Joseph Mbassi, a journalist, was murdered while investigating the arms trade in Cameroon. His body was found in his room bloodied and mangled on the morning of October 26.
  • Abbot Bernabé Zambo of the archdiocese of Bertoua died on March 24, 1989. Media speculate he was poisoned by someone as an act of revenge.
  • Father Anthony Fontegh of Kumbo was murdered in 1990.
  • Bishop Yves Plume was strangled to death in his room in Ngaoundéré at the Minor Seminary in September.
  • In 1992, Fr. Amougou of Sangmelima was killed in his rectory.
  • On April 23, 1995, Fr. Engelbert Mveng was found strangled to death with a gash in his head, and no items stolen from his room.
  • On April 21, 2001, Fr. Apollinaire Claude Ndi of Nkoltob was found murdered by an unknown man in Yaoundé.
  • On Christmas Eve, 2008, Fr. François Xavier Mekong's body was discovered in one of the showers of the rectory.

In the meantime, the Holy See has appointed Bp. Abraham Kome of the diocese of Bafang to be apostolic administrator of Bafia until a more permanent appointment.


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