National Assembly adopts amendments to Criminal Code: restrictions to freedom of expression


Amendments to the Criminal Code: restrictions

On 21st June 2019, Burkina Faso's National Assembly adopted a law amending the Criminal Code, which includes several provisions restricting freedom of expression, press freedom and the right to information. The amendments criminalise any act tending to demoralise the defence and security forces by any means, with prison sentences up to ten years and fines up to 2,000,000 francs CFA (3,365 USD). Additionally, the publication, communication and dissemination of false information suggesting that a destruction, deterioration or attack of persons has occurred, or any information on the movement of geographic location of defence and security forces that could undermine public order is subject to prison sentences of up to five years and a fine of up to 10,000,000 francs CFA (16,825 USD). Relaying 'images and sounds' of the scenes of terrorist offences are now subject to prior authorisation. 

Minister of Justice René Bagoro said that the new legal provisions in the Criminal Code are aimed at protecting the operations of the security and defence forces. 

Journalists and civil society actors have qualified the new provisions as a restriction on fundamental freedoms. In a joint statement on 17th June by Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Centre d’information et de formation en matière de droits humains en Afrique (Centre of Information and Training on Human Rights), Centre pour la qualité du droit et la justice (CQDJ, Centre for the Quality of Law and Justice) and Association des bloggeurs du Burkina (ABB; Association of Bloggers of Burkina), a day before examination at the National Assembly, they said that the restrictive provisions will affect mostly journalists, human rights defenders and activists on social networks: 

"If the law is passed, a social media user, a journalist or a human rights defender could incur up to 10 years in prison solely for reporting information related to military operations." (translated from French)

Furthermore, civil society actors and journalists have complained about the lack of consultation in the drafting of the amendments. Guézouma Sanogho of the Association des journalistes du Burkina Faso (AJB, Association of Journalists of Burkina Faso) said

"At no time were we involved in the process, the professional media organisations - that is the journalists - were excluded. It is a problem if journalists can no longer do live [reporting] at the places of attacks!" (translated from French)

On 19th July 2019, the Constitutional Council of Burkina Faso decided that the law is in line with the country's Constitution. 

In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Burkina Faso advanced five places, to 36 out of 180 countries. RSF said that Burkina Faso is 'one of Africa's success stories' but also noted some issues with the country's press freedom: 

"...the media are still subject to some pressure, especially the threat of heavy fines or damages in defamation cases that could force them to close. The security situation in the north of the country makes it hard to cover anything taking place there. It is also still dangerous to attempt any critical or objective coverage of the Burkinabe military’s efforts to combat terrorism."

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th August 2019, three civil society organisations organised a silent march to the morgue in Ouagadougou to demand clarity on and justice for the death of two members of the youth organisation Organisation démocratique de la jeunesse (ODJ; Democratic Organisation of Youth). The two - Cissé Fahadou and Balima Hama - were killed on 31st May 2019 while on their way to an audience with the High Commissioner in the province of Yagha.

On 12th January 2019, thousands gathered at the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou to demand 'truth and justice' after 49 people were killed in inter-communal violence in central Burkina Faso on 1st and 2nd January 2019. On 1st January, unidentified armed men killed seven people of the Mossi ethnic group in the village of Yirgou. The next day, residents of Yirgou attacked and killed scores of members of the Peul ethnic group in the region. The protest was organised by the CSO Collectif contre l’impunité et la stigmatisation (CISC; Collective against Impunity and Stigmatisation), and also took place in other localities in the country.