West Africa: Terrorist attacks on journalists must be urgently addressed

West Africa: Terrorist attacks on journalists must be urgently addressed - Protection

In April 2021, journalists were killed and kidnapped in two Sahel countries, Burkina Faso and Mali. Credit: Wikimedia/Munion

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the recent terrorist attacks on journalists in Mali and Burkina Faso, which resulted in the deaths of three people and the kidnapping of another. 

The murder of two Spanish journalists and an Irish conservationist, as well as the disappearance of a Burkinabé citizen in eastern Burkina Faso on 26 April, are deplorable. The two journalists were working on an anti-poaching documentary at the time of their deaths.

The government of Burkina Faso must immediately mount an independent, impartial and credible investigation into the killings and disappearance, bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure all truth on this tragic incident is made public.

In Mali, Olivier Dubois, a French freelance journalist and correspondent for several international and local media, was kidnapped on 8 April, though this was only made public on 5 May. 

ARTICLE 19 calls on the authorities to do everything they can, in line with international human rights and humanitarian standards, to ensure Olivier Dubois returns home safe.

“We are deeply dismayed and saddened by the death of the two journalists and the kidnapping of another, attacked while carrying out their work in two separate incidents within a matter of day,” said Alfred Nkuru Bulakali, Deputy Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa.“We extend our sincere condolences to all the families of the victims. We call for joint efforts to investigate the cases, find and bring the perpetrators to justice and to secure the release of the journalist in captivity.

“Journalists and activists have the right to exercise their profession in complete safety even in sensitive areas. The murder of the two journalists violates the right to life, the independence of media and aim to deprive the public of the right to information. These cowardly and abject crimes intended to terrorise journalists and instil fear among them must be punished. All forces in the Sahel region must now show they have learned and take appropriate steps to strengthen measures for the safety and the security of journalists and the media in line with human rights standards.”

In a short video released to the public in the early hours of 5 May, journalist Olivier Dubois explained that he had been abducted in Gao in northern Mali by the “Groupe de soutien à l’Islam et aux musulmans” (GSIM), a terrorist group. The journalist, who had not been heard from since 8 April, was kidnapped while he was on assignment to interview a local jihadist commander in Gao. 

In France, Dubois’ home country, anti-terrorist prosecution authorities launched a preliminary investigation into “kidnapping by an organised gang and in connection with a terrorist enterprise”. 

On 26 April, two Spanish journalists, David Beriáin, the founder of the production company 93 meters, which specialises in documentary and factual programmes in hostile environments, and Roberto Fraile, a cameraman, and Irish national Rory Young, the co-founder and chief executive of environment conservation organisation Chengeta Wildlife, were killed after an armed attack on their convoy in the area of Fada N’Gournma-Pamala in eastern Burkina Faso. An unnamed Burkinabé national was also reported missing.

The team were part of an anti-poaching forest patrol working alongside Burkina Faso soldiers and were making an anti-poaching documentary when they came across unidentified men in two pick-up trucks and several motorbikes, who opened fire.

A day later, the Burkina Faso security forces found the two journalists and the Irish environmental activist dead in bushland, their bodies riddled with bullets. According to local civil society sources, the fourth person has been freed, but the circumstances of his release are not yet clearly known.

According to international media sources, the Jnim, a coalition of jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, allegedly posted an audio file on the internet claiming it carried out the attack and saying the group was not necessarily targeting the journalists. ARTICLE 19 cannot confirm the authenticity of the file.  

ARTICLE 19 extends its solidarity to journalists and media who work in difficult security conditions in the Sahel and calls for a coordinated, inclusive and multi-sectoral response to terrorism in that region in line with international human rights and humanitarian law. Such a response must take into account the public right to information, and thus pay particular attention to the protection of free speech, media, journalists and human rights defenders. 

In a joint statement following the attack in Burkina Faso, the governments of France, Germany, Italy and Spain reaffirmed their pledge to support security forces’ operations in the region and while respecting judicial rules and human rights. 

The delegation of the European Union in Burkina Faso condemned the crimes, noting: “terrorists are flag bearers of cowardice that destroy everything, including freedom of expression and the right to truth”

“We are now expecting the results of investigations to be made public, the perpetrators caught and brought to justice, the journalist in captivity to be released and concrete measures taken to protect free expression, access to information and other human rights and to strengthen transparent governance and democracy in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel,” Alfred Bulakali said.

For more information, please contact:

Alfred Nkuru Bulakali, Deputy Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa  [email protected]  

Or Eliane NYOBE, Senior Programme Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa: [email protected]   

Tel: +221 77 553 13 87 or +221 33 869 03 22

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