Burkina Faso: A week of attacks for media and demonstrators

Burkina Faso: A week of attacks for media and demonstrators - Protection

A man takes shelter from an approaching sand storm under a tree, one of the few left in this desertified landscape.

ARTICLE 19 condemns the assaults on journalists and the excessive use of force against demonstrators following the coup d’état that halted political transition in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso has suffered a climate of tension since the coup d’état on 16 September 2015. The Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), which was responsible for this power grab, halted the transition just a few short weeks before the presidential elections by bringing General Gilbert Diendéré to the presidency and dissolving all pre-existing institutions.

President Michel Kafando, prime minister Yacouba Isaac Zida and other members of the transitional government were arrested and then released on 18 and 22 September, respectively.

No sooner had it been set up, a National Council for Democracy (CND) was challenged by the people. International and regional institutions, and the National Transitional Council (CNT) all denounced this coup d’état and demanded that hostages be released and free and democratic elections be held.

Since the RSP seized power, ARTICLE 19 has documented a series of attacks and cases of aggression and violence towards the media, working journalists and demonstrators. About 10 incidents have been documented, ranging from physical assaults to cases of material damage. Audiovisual media were also banned from broadcasting. Furthermore, more than 10 people were killed and around 100 injured.

On 16 September, Oméga FM, one of the most popular radio stations in Ouagadougou, was targeted by members of the RSP shortly after the coup d’état. They turned up at the radio station’s premises and ordered editor-in-chief Albert Nagréongo to stop broadcasting live if he did not want to see the place burned down. Before leaving the premises, they fired rounds in the air and set fire to a motorbike. The flames from it then spread to several other motorbikes belonging to journalists. They were warned “things would get worse” if broadcasting did not stop. Following that incident, the radio station stopped broadcasting for quite a few hours. When it started again, it only broadcast music.

That same day, the Radio France Internationale (RFI) signal was cut off in Ouagadougou. The service was restored on 17 September. Furthermore, media professionals and journalists reporting on events were physically assaulted and beaten by members of the RSP. Among them was Mr Oui Koita, a journalist for the news website Burkina 24. He told ARTICLE 19 that, while out reporting on 16 September, he had been about to take photos of barricades raised against members of the RSP when two of them – in uniform – “laid into him” and beat him in front of the BF1 television network’s entrance, despite having made it clear to them that he was a journalist.

In addition, two cameras belonging to the camera crew of the Ciné Droit Libre film festival were seized by uniformed members of the RSP, as was the car owned by Gideon Vink, one of the managers of that crew.

According to several witness accounts gathered by ARTICLE 19, hardly any private radio or television networks broadcast their programmes. They took the decision not to do so as a security measure to avoid assaults; only the national television network carried on operating, though it only broadcast old programmes. BF1, one of the private television networks, recommenced broadcasting on 19 September yet stopped again that very same day.

Between the 17 and 18 September, two journalists working for the daily newspaper Sidwaya, Christian Somé and Jean Jacques Conombo, were beaten by members of the RSP.

On 19 September, the premises of the Savane FM radio stations in Ouagadougou were set on fire and the transmitter was seized by military personnel. The radio station Laafi in Zorgho (located approximately 100 kilometres to the east of Ouagadougou) was ransacked and set on fire too.

Within this context of almost total silencing of the media, an underground “resistance” radio station was created on 17 September. Despite having its signal cut off on 20 September, it has since resumed broadcasting, though only via the Internet.

Journalists remain under pressure and some have even received threats, thus making them fearful.

Besides the violent assaults on the media and journalists, the RSP has tried to muzzle the voices of those opposing the coup. Shortly after the coup d’état, thousands of demonstrators tried to gather to protest against it, but military personnel systematically dispersed the crowds by firing warning shots and locked down the city’s main arteries, including the Place de la Révolution.

More than 10 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured. Our sources told us that, after seeing the soldiers, a young man got off his motorbike to go and hide in Central Hôtel, but they caught him and killed him in the hotel lobby.

Faced with this situation of crisis and insecurity, ECOWAS mediators have drafted a political agreement project for ending the crisis, which proposes reinstating president Kafando, ceasing violence, releasing those detained following the coup d’état and holding elections on 22 November 2015. However, the agreement also foresees “the acceptance of forgiveness” and an amnesty law by 30 September at the latest for those responsible for the coup d’état and the inclusion in the next elections of candidates declared ineligible by the Constitutional Council.

This agreement was unacceptable to the vast majority of the population and of civil society, who denounced the impunity of the assaults and violence perpetrated by the RSP.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned for the safety of journalists and people, and condemns the systematic attacks on journalists and the media and the excessive use of force against people who voice their opinions.

Violence and attacks on journalists undermine the public’s right to information and constitute a serious violation of article 19 of the ICCPR and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Moreover, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and the Resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR/Res. 178 (XLIX) 2011) on the safety of journalists and media practitioners in Africa forbid such acts and demand that States prosecute those responsible.

The right of peaceful assembly is guaranteed under article 21 of the ICCPR. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This right is also guaranteed under article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

ARTICLE 19 also recalls provision 9 of the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which stipulates that such officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Pursuant to these principles, non-violent means must prevail as far as possible.

ARTICLE 19 demands the cessation of violence and attacks on journalists and demonstrators as well as the protection of the media and freedom of expression.

 ARTICLE 19 demands that perpetrators of violence and crimes against journalists be prosecuted.