Detention activists, protests banned, negative impact of terrorism on media freedom


Detention of activists

On the evening of 21st December 2019, gendarmes detained the leader of the panafrican group 'Urgences panafricanistes' and anti-CFA franc activist Kémi Séba in a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou on accusations of having insulted the Head of State. Earlier that day, Séba participated in a heated debate on the CFA franc (the West African currency) at the University of Joseph Ki-Zerbo, where he called Burkinabé president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré a 'political sieve'. A few days later, on 26th December 2019, the Court of Ouagadougou sentenced Séba to a suspended prison sentence of two months and a fine of 200,000 CFA francs (330 USD) for insulting the Head of State and foreign Heads of State.

Hervé Ouattara of the anti-CFA front in Burkina Faso, who had invited Kémi Séba to the public event, said to BBC Afrique that his residence was attacked the same evening by a group of young people, who were chanting the national hymn and throwing stones while yelling 'down with Kémi', 'down with Hervé'.

The French-Beninese activist has been detained and/or deported from several countries in West Africa in the past few years for his anti-colonialism activism and protests against the CFA franc currency: Senegal in 2017, Guinea in March 2018 and Côte d'Ivoire in March 2019.

Police officers detained online activist Naïm Touré on the night of 12th to 13th November 2020 in a location unknown until hours later. The National Police declared later that Touré was accused of 'attempting to demoralise security and defence forces' for comments he made on social media in relation to certain promotions within the defence forces. On 14th November 2019 he was released without charge. As reported previously on the Monitor, Naïm Touré was sentenced in July 2018 to a prison sentence of two months on charges of 'incitement to revolt' for a Facebook post.

Death threats

The Secretary General of the civil society group Collectif contre l'impunité et la stigmatisation des communautés (CISC, Collective against the Impunity and Stigmatisation of Communities) Daouda Diallo, said in January 2020 that he had received death threats. CISC was formed in the aftermath of the mass killings in Yirgou, in the province of Sanmatenga, in early January 2019, to seek justice for the dozens of people who were killed in intercommunal violence and to fight against the stigmatisation of communities. 


Report on how terrorism has negatively impacted press freedom

A report by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has outlined how terrorism has negatively affected media freedoms in Burkina Faso in the past few years. The diverse media landscape in Burkina Faso, consisting of 87 newspapers, 25 online media outlets, 163 radio stations and 33 TV stations, has been operating in a 'context of terrorism and ethnic clashes, security threats against journalists and a harsh legislative environment' which has negatively impacted the independence of the media and has led to increasing self-censorship by journalists and media practitioners.

According to the press freedom organisation, there has been an increase in threats against journalists and media workers, both from the army and from terrorist groups, depending on what has been reported. Additionally, in those areas most affected by terrorist groups, such as Hauts-Bassins, Boucle du Mouhoun, Nord, Sahel and Est, journalists have indicated increasing challenges to access information sources, as citizens are reluctant to share information due to fear of retribution. Moreover, the legal environment for press freedom has deteriorated since Burkina Faso's National Assembly adopted, in June 2019, a law amending the Criminal Code, which includes several provisions restricting freedom of expression, press freedom and the right to information. As reported previously on the Monitor, journalists and citizens could face severe prison sentences for reporting on military operations. One journalist told MFWA:

"Journalists have over their heads a Sword of Damocles which could fall at any time"

Investigative reporter’s residence attacked

On the morning of 7th January 2020, unknown perpetrators attacked the residence of investigative journalist and editor of the bi-monthly Courrier Confidentiel, Ladji Bama by throwing a burning Molotov cocktail which landed on and burnt his car. In a press statement, several Burkinabé media organisations, including the Centre National de Presse Norbert Zongo and Association des journalistes du Burkina (Association of journalists of Burkina) condemned the attacks and commented:

"We have been witnessing in Burkina for some time the return of anti-democratic practices from another era through extra-judicial executions, intimidation, death threats ..."

1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo: France approves the extradition of lead suspect

Authorities in France signed, on 3rd March 2020, the order for François Compaoré to be extradited to Burkina Faso in the case of the murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo in December 1998. François Compaoré, the brother of former president Blaise Compaoré, is accused of having orchestrated the murder of the journalist and three others who were killed alongside Zongo. At the time of his murder, Zongo was working on an investigative report on the killing of then President Compaoré’s driver, David Ouédraogo.

Assane Diagne of Reporters without Borders said:

“The execution of the extradition order, which can still be appealed, is a priority. More than 20 years after this journalist’s murder, his family and colleagues are still waiting for justice to be rendered. Norbert Zongo must not continue to be the symbol of impunity for murders of journalists.”

Peaceful Assembly

CSO sit-in and protest banned

Municipal authorities reportedly banned a sit-in of the civil society group Collectif contre l’impunité et la stigmatisation des communautés (CISC; Collective against the impunity and stigmatisation of communities), planned for 10th January 2020 in front of the Palace of Justice in Ouagadougou to demand justice for the massacre in Yirgou. According to CISC, authorities banned the sit-in on the grounds that it would disturb the functioning of the Palace of Justice.

On 17th September 2019, police dispersed a protest organised by several trade unions and civil society organisations to denounce economic crimes, bad management of the security crisis and to demand the departure of foreign troops in Ouagadougou, injuring several protesters. Municipal authorities previously banned the planned protest. Organisers of the protest said that all legal requirements for the authorisation of the protest were met, and therefore that the ban was unjustified.