No one has forgotten Norbert Zongo although, five years after his murder, there was still no sign of any trial, and impunity was still the rule. The new editor of L’Indépendant was seriously threatened in 2003.
The spotlight was still on Norbert Zongo although five years have passed by since his December 1998 murder. Not a week went by without a local newspaper mentioning his case, one that was still very sensitive for the authorities. Judicially, the case was still paralysed. The only person who has been charged, a former presidential guard warrant officer, spent his days under closely watched house arrest. None of the alleged instigators has every been bothered by the police or judicial authorities and impunity still prevailed.
There were additions to the Burkinabe news media. The country now has three commercial TV channels as well as many radio stations and a score of newspapers and magazines. In a speech marking World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, information minister Raymond Edouard Ouédraogo dwelled on the "notable progress" achieved by the government as regards freedom of expression. He mentioned the liberalisation the broadcast media, the creation of a high council for news and information, and the government’s aid for the press. He also paid homage to the "274 journalists killed on the battle-fields between 1990 and 2002" and expressed solidarity with their "families and colleagues." But he did not say a word about the Zongo case.
L’Indépendant, the weekly Zongo founded, celebrated its 10th anniversary in June. The newspaper congratulated itself for surviving so long, despite the murder of its founder, and expressed satisfaction that it was managing to continue Zongo’s work.
New information on two journalists killed before 2003
The president’s office announced on 7 October 2003 that a coup attempt had just been foiled and that the defence minister had arrested a number of persons suspected of playing a role in the conspiracy. One of the soldiers detained, Sgt. Naon Babou, let it be known at the time of his arrest that he had information to give about the December 1998 murder of L’Indépendant editor Norbert Zongo.
During a fact-finding mission to Burkina Faso in December 2003, Reporters Without Borders obtained a copy of Babou’s statement to the military authorities implicating the presidential guard in the murder. He said he had put questions about the murder to François Compaoré, the president’s brother, and Col. Gilbert Diendéré, the head of the presidential bodyguard. He said they replied that they did not understand why a member of the presidential guard disapproved of what happened to Zongo.
The discovery of Zongo’s burned body in his car along with the bodies of three companions on 13 December 1998 set off an outcry in Burkina Faso. The government set up an independent commission of enquiry with the task of determining the causes of his death. It submitted its findings to the prime minister on 7 May 1999. After questioning more than 200 persons, the commission concluded that, "the motives for this quadruple murder should be sought in the investigations carried out over many years by the journalist, in particular, his recent investigations into the dead of David Ouédraogo, the driver of presidential adviser François Compaoré." Aside from François Compaoré (the president’s brother), the commission named six "serious suspects," all members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP).
Although deeply implicated in the case, François Compaoré was only ever questioned once by the investigating judge, in January 2001, more than two years after the murder. Two weeks later, public prosecutor Abdoulaye Barry charged Marcel Kafando, a warrant officer in the RSP, with "murder" and "arson." Kafondo remained under house arrest in 2003. Reporters Without Borders saw him and found him to be in relatively good health, contrary to reports in the local press that he was "at death’s door." He was still the only person charged in the Zongo murder.
Jacqueline Kaboré, the judge in charge of investigating the 2001 murder of journalist Michel Congo, announced on 20 May that Saïbou Ouédraogo had been charged as the presumed instigator. Ouédraogo was detained in Ouagadougou prison pending trial. A 23-year-old journalism student and contributor to the privately-owned daily 24 Heures, Congo was shot and stabbed to death in his home on 21 October 2001. At the end of 2003, there were still no grounds for claiming that his death was linked to his work as a journalist.
A journalist detained
Mountanou Kani, the editor of the privately-owned daily L’Express du Faso, was detained on 18 February 2003 and was questioned at the gendarmerie in the southwestern town of Bobo-Dioulasso about an article the previous day headlined: "Bobo gendarmerie: the detective squad’s dirty linen." Despite refusing to reveal his sources, he was released later the same day.
A journalist threatened
Someone broke into the premises of L’Indépendant on the night of 24 October 2003 and searched the office of the managing editor, Liermé Somé, from top to bottom. Somé was in the building at the time but eluded the intruder by hiding in the toilets. He was forced to spend the whole night there waiting for the intruder to leave.