Friends of Jean Sinclair Maka Gbossokotto Say He Was Murdered After Criticizing the Wagner Group

One of the most influential and hostile critics of the infamous Wagner Group – sometimes referred to as Putin’s private army – died under suspicious circumstances earlier this year. Three sources close to him have told The Daily Beast they believe he was poisoned.

Two friends and a relative of Jean Sinclair Maka Gbossokotto say that the late journalist told associates he was meeting with an unnamed person connected to the two. Central African Republic (CAR) government and Wagner’s group at a restaurant for several hours before he died.

“The person he dined with was someone very close to the Russians,” one of Gbossokotto’s closest friends told The Daily Beast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared he might be targeted by the Russians. “His wife when he died said he initially complained of feeling very weak and wanted to vomit, then he started convulsing with bubbling saliva coming out of his mouth.”

He said Gbossokotto was out until just before midnight in the capital Bangui, which alarmed his partner, who was worried for his safety. Within hours of returning home, he fell gravely ill in the early hours of February 23. When he arrived at the local hospital, he was pronounced dead.

“Jean was definitely poisoned,” said the late journalist’s friend.

The government’s reluctance to do an autopsy shows that they have something to hide

Member of the Gbossokotto family

All three sources confirmed that the journalist’s family had been informed by the hospital that his death was officially listed as either cardiac or respiratory arrest, but they believe the journalist was poisoned by a close to the people he often targets in his publications.

Gbossokotto became a thorn in the side of both the CAR government and the Russian mercenary Wagner, who has been at CAR for four years—At the invitation of the government to help fight the insurgency and secure the country’s gold mines. Putin’s private army, allegedly run by Yvegeny Prigozhin, is accused of carrying out a series of barbaric acts in the impoverished African nation.

In 2019, the journalist founded Anti Intox RCA, a local fact-checking website counters misinformation, some of which comes from Russian-backed trolls. He used the site, saying its mission was to “become arbiter of the truth.” to show Russia’s superiority in CARand participate in movements to eliminate fake news.

At the time of his death, Gbossokotto was a member of the Stop online games (rumour) campaign led by Radio Ndeke Luka and Favorite Hirondelle, a Swiss non-profit organization that provides solutions and training in communication in crisis areas. The respected journalist is also the coordinator of Central African Journalists Association to Fight Disinformation (CJCLD) and project founder Working together to defend democracy against misinformation.

Gbossokotto takes its campaign to the streets in 2020, second only to Facebook report that it has suspended accounts in CAR and several other African countries linked to “organizations affiliated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin”. He organized events in Bangui with like-minded colleagues to dispel the rumors and fake news that were spreading on social networks and instant messaging apps, often popularized by Russian troll. His popularity in the country began to grow from there.

In February, shortly before his death, Gbossokotto became extremely critical of the Wagner Corporation. In a Valentine’s Day dispatch, he said that he has become aware about “very unorthodox abuse cases” committed by Wagner mercenaries in the CAR and, in another article of the same day, he praised a senior police officer for having the courage “to denounce loudly and clearly the abuses he suffered at the hands of Russian paratroopers belonging to the Wagner company.” He went on to criticize the CAR government for not calling the Russians to order and accused Wagner mercenaries of throwing Central Africans into “slavery”.

On the eve of Gbossokotto’s death, his website posted an article criticized the CAR government for arresting four French soldiers who were accused of plotting to assassinate the president and said the Russian-backed troll factories were set up “with the aim of tarnishing the image of France.” “. Hours after the article was published, friends of Gbossokotto said that he had dinner with an individual with Russian connections and that the next morning the journalist was dead.

“Invitation [to the dinner meeting] came suddenly and urgently, so Jean didn’t have time to explain in detail to anyone who he was going to meet,” said another friend and colleague of the journalist who worked closely with him. to The Daily Beast privately. “But I knew he was meeting someone close to the Russians and wanted to talk about their activities in the country.”

Gbossokotto, according to his colleagues, also received calls from several people warning him to stop targeting the CAR government and the Russian military in his publications, a situation that made the late journalist “difficult”. bear”.

“At one point a government official called to say that he was unhappy with Jean about an article he had written about the current administration and the Wagner Group,” the late journalist’s colleague said, adding: added that Gbossokotto had received warnings from “a lot of people” that he was starting to fear for his life. “

A funeral for Gbossokotto was held only until April, almost two months after his death. No autopsy was performed on his body. A relative of the journalist told The Daily Beast that the government agreed to release his body only after officials believed his family would not conduct an autopsy to determine the true cause. of his death.

“The fact that the government doesn’t want to do an autopsy shows that they have something to hide,” said a relative of Gbossokotto, who did not want his name mentioned so as not to be targeted. “All we know is that Jean was poisoned and that someone in the government or among the Russians knows something about it.”

No government official has issued a statement on Gbossokotto’s death. The Daily Beast has reached out to the CAR Department of Communications and Media, but emails sent to a spokesperson for the Department have not received a response at the time of publication.

Gbossokotto’s partner, Cathia Préfina Okoyo and his father, Maka Gbossoko, have chosen not to speak to the media since his death.

Gbossokotto’s death is not the first time a CAR journalist who reported or attempted to investigate Wagner Group activities has been killed. In July 2018, three Russian journalists — Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko—were killed when they attempt to go to Bambari to investigate the activities of the Wagner Corporation. About two months after the murder, Louis Kottoy, a freelance journalist who investigated the deaths of Russian journalists, severely beaten in Bangui by three gun-wielding local men who took his phone and laptop and left him dislocated his left shoulder and a cut above his right eye requiring three stitches. Previously reported by The Daily Beast Sylvain Onana, a journalist on CAR who traveled to residential areas near a gold mine to find out about reports of Russian harassment of locals in the area, was attacked by mercenaries. How Wagner seized his phone and camera, and warned him never to return to the area.

After widespread belief that Gbossokotto had been killed, many people became concerned about the safety of media practitioners in the country, especially those reporting on the Wagner Group. Journalists in CAR who fear being targeted are now shying away from holding the mercenary group to account.

“No one wants to be killed,” said Onana, who has avoided coverage of the Wagner Group since being threatened by Russian mercenaries in the town of Bambari in October 2020. He told The Daily Beast: “As for journalists here in CAR, you criticize Wagner and get killed, or you avoid them and survive. “

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