Burkina Faso and Mali must guarantee freedom of expression and protect journalists

Open Letter
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3 May 2023. 30 organisations stand united in an appeal to the African Union, ECOWAS, UEMOA, the UN and others to defend freedom of the press in Mali and Burkina Faso, which has been badly affected by the actions of the authorities in both countries.

Calls for the murder of journalists and opinion leaders, threats and intimidation of the national press, slanderous accusations against journalists, suspension of the international media RFI and France 24, expulsion of correspondents of the French newspapers Libération and Le Monde etc. The threats to freedom of expression and freedom of the press are very alarming in Burkina Faso. The measures taken by the authorities in this country, especially in recent months, are likely to infringe upon the fundamental right to information of citizens. Freedom begins where ignorance ends.

In Mali, too, journalists and opinion leaders are increasingly subject to pressure and intimidation. From November to December 2022, the channel Joliba TV was suspended by the Haute autorité de la communication - HAC (Communications Authority) after broadcasting an editorial deemed critical of the authorities. On 20 February 2023, the Maison de la presse in Bamako was ransacked. On 13 March, radio commentator Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, better known under the pseudonym Ras Bath, was charged and imprisoned for having publicly criticised the “assassination” of former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga. On 15 March, Rokia Doumbia, known as “Rose vie chère”, was also arrested for reporting on price rises and the “failure” of the transition. On 6 April, journalist Aliou Touré was abducted by armed and hooded men and was only found free four days later.

The international press is also far from being spared. In February 2022, a reporter from Jeune Afrique was expelled from Bamako. A month later, RFI and France 24 were cut off throughout Mali.
In Burkina Faso as in Mali, these attacks are increasingly relayed on social networks by “influencers” favourable to the military regimes of these two countries, acting as vigilantes ready to threaten journalists and opinion leaders who are too independent in their eyes with death. Today, lies are added to violence. The Burkinabe daily L’Observateur Paalga reports the establishment of a “regime of terror”, accompanied by a wave of “fake news” that floods social networks with lies. The first victims of these “influencers” are the Malian and Burkinabe populations, who are deprived of a democratic discussion.

In this period of serious security crisis in these two countries, journalists, who play a crucial role in informing citizens, are all aware of their responsibilities. They also understand the complexity of the political, geopolitical and military context. They also live and suffer the serious consequences of this security crisis. Like all citizens, they want to see a rapid return to peace. However, the fight against terrorism must not be used as a pretext to impose a new standard of information and to restrict the fundamental rights of the Malian and Burkinabè populations to seek and have access to information through professional and independent media.

In Burkina Faso, the situation of journalists has become so critical that even the institution in charge of regulation is concerned. In a press release issued on 29 March 2023, the Conseil supérieur de la communication (CSC) “regretfully takes notes of the recurrence of threats against the press and media”. The CSC asks the Burkinabe authorities to “take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the media and journalists in the exercise of their profession”. Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the media situation in Burkina Faso. “In this period of transition, the protection of independent voices is more necessary than ever,” he added.

On 20 February, Alioune Tine, the UN independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali, stated that he was “extremely concerned about the shrinking civic space, freedom of expression and association” in Mali.

In light of all these events, we, the signatories of this open letter,
 Urge the authorities of Mali and Burkina Faso to put an end to all measures that undermine press freedom;
 Note the lack of protection by the security forces and the silence of the judiciary in the face of the campaigns of intimidation and death threats launched against journalists in these two countries; while respecting the independence of the judiciary, we call on prosecutors and officers from the crime department to be more reactive to these acts criminal;
 Demand that the authorities in both countries guarantee the protection and safety of all media professionals who are victims of threats, intimidation, harassment and physical attacks;
 Call on the authorities to conduct impartial, effective and independent investigations to shed light on the abuses committed against journalists, identify those responsible and bring them to justice;
 Call on the two governments to respect the international obligations signed and ratified by the States regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the press, in particular the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
 Call on national leaders and pan-African and international bodies to whom this open letter is addressed to support this initiative at the highest level: access to information is a fundamental right of peoples. On this World Press Freedom Day, it is essential to uphold and protect it.

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  • Co-signatories

    1. AfrikaJom Center
    2. Association des Journalistes du Burkina Faso (AJB)
    3. Association des Professionnels de la Presse en Ligne (APPEL Sénégal)
    4. Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO)
    5. Centre National de la Presse Norbert Zongo (CNP-NZ Burkina Faso)
    6. Courrier confidentiel (Burkina Faso)
    7. Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)
    8. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
    9. International federation for human rights (FIDH)
    10. France 24 (France)
    11. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
    12. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    13. International Press Institute (IPI)
    14. Jeune Afrique (France)
    15. Joliba TV News (Mali)
    16. Le Pays (Burkina Faso)
    17. Le Monde (France)
    18. Lefaso.net (Burkina Faso)
    19. Le Reporter (Burkina Faso)
    20. L’Événement (Burkina Faso)
    21. Libération (France)
    22. L’Observateur Paalga (Burkina Faso)
    23. Radio France Internationale (France)
    24. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    25. Société des Editeurs de la Presse Privée du Burkina Faso (SEP)
    26. Omega Médias (Burkina Faso)
    27. Union Internationale de la Presse Francophone (UPF)
    28. Union des Journalistes d’Afrique de l’Ouest (UJAO)
    29. 24heures.bf (Burkina Faso)
    30. Wakat Sera (Burkina Faso)

  • Member organisations - Burkina Faso
    Burkina Faso
  • Member organisations - Mali
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