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Increasing insecurity in Burkina Faso: mass protests, two journalists, one conservationist killed

DORI, BURKINA FASO. Cars damaged by conflict in northern Burkina Faso. (Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images)

Peaceful Assembly

Thousands rally against increasing insecurity in Burkina Faso

On 3rd and 4th July 2021, protests in several localities in Burkina Faso took place against increasing insecurity due to attacks by armed jihadist groups and to demand government action. Opposition and some civil society groups had called for the protests. People gathered in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouahigouya, Kaya, Fada N’Gourma and other localities, carrying placards with “No to endless attacks” and “No to the abandonment of populations”. According to the organisers of the marches, protests took place in 44 out of the 45 provinces in the country. Prior to the protests, on 27th June 2021, president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré called on opposition and civil society groups to “postpone” planned protests and meetings against insecurity, “ so as not to make the bed of our disunity, faced with a common enemy”.

Protests have multiplied since the massacre that took place in Solhan, in the North East region on 5th June 2021, in which armed gunmen killed between 132 and 160 people overnight. On 12th June 2021, for example, people protested in Dori, in the north of the country, to protest against what they see as government inaction against the deteriorating security situation.

Social movement Balai Citoyen did not mobilise for the protests, instead choosing to file a complaint against the government for “not giving assistance to people in danger” for the failure of a nearby military base to intervene.

Since 2015, Burkina Faso has experienced increasing attacks by jihadist groups, including by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group.

Media group Omega suspended for five days

On 8th June 2021, Burkina Faso’s national media regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de Communication (CSC) suspended media group Omega Médias – which houses Radio Oméga and OmegaTV – for a period of five days. The CSC accused the media group of having broadcast “erroneous information” following the deadly terrorist attack in Solhan which killed between 132 and 160 people. According to the CSC, mistakes included the information that the perpetrators returned to Solhan, although according to Reporters without Borders (RSF) this was confirmed by the mayor of Solhan, and a report that 40 people had died during an attack on a bus. The CSC also reprimanded other media that had relayed the same information and summoned Radiotélévision du Burkina, l’Observateur Paalga and Radio France Internationale (RFI). 

Director-general of Radio Oméga, Ouezzin Louis Oulon, said to RSF that the decision was “disproportionate, arbitrary, hasty and biased”. In a press statement, professional media organisations Association of Journalists of Burkina Faso (AJB), Autonomous Union of Information and Culture Workers (SYNATIC), Society of Editors of the Private Press and the National Press Centre Norbert Zongo (CNP-NZ), likewise called the decision to suspend the media group “disproportionate and abusive”. Although they regretted the broadcast of information whose veracity was not confirmed, they said that the media group had responded by the dismissal of its editor-in-chief and apologies to its listeners prior to its suspension, while highlighting the difficulties for journalists in obtaining official information.

On 14th June 2021, the Oméga media group resumed its broadcasts.

Two journalists, one conservationist killed in armed attack

On 26th April 2021, two Spanish journalists – reporter David Beriáin and photographer Roberto Fraile – were travelling in a group of 40 people, a newly formed anti-poaching unit of army, police and forestry officials that had just started operating in conservation areas near the border of Togo and Benin, when they were ambushed by a group of armed men on a road leading to Pama Reserve, in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists and director of Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young were later confirmed to have been killed. Two soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The two journalists were working on a documentary on communities that live in the national parks in Burkina Faso and the country’s efforts to protect its parks from poachers.

In an interview by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the coordinator of the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO) Arnaud Ouédraogo commented on the challenges for journalists in Burkina Faso:

“Press freedom in Burkina Faso has been put to the test in recent years, in particular because of the rise in terrorism. Coverage of terrorism is becoming increasingly difficult for Burkinabè journalists, as the country’s penal code has been revised and requires journalists to stick to the government’s official versions of the attacks, something that inevitably leads to self-censorship. Geographically, some localities in the country have become virtually inaccessible due to insecurity.”