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Burkina Faso17 August 2006

Appeal court upholds judge’s decision to drop all charges in Zongo case

A Ouagadougou appeal court on 16 August upheld an investigating judge’s decision to dismiss all charges in the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo. A judicial source told AFP that the appeal court refused to consider the Zongo family’s appeal against the ruling, claiming that the “investigating judge did his job well.”

The judge’s decision, issued on 19 July, had been criticised by many human rights groups, civil society organisations and opposition parties. Reporters Without Borders will continue to campaign for justice to be done.

14.08.2006 - Appeal court urged to overturn judge’s decision to dismiss charges in Zongo murder

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Ouagadougou appeal court to overturn an investigating judge’s decision to dismiss all charges in the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo, saying it was manifestly the result of “irresistible political pressure” and “clearly violates the code of criminal procedure.”

It was Zongo’s family that brought the appeal against investigating judge Wenceslas Ilboudo’s 19 July decision to dismiss charges against Marcel Kafando “and X” (meaning “other undetermined persons”). It is due to be heard on 16 August.

“Saying there are no grounds for proceeding against ‘Marcel Kafando and X’ clearly violates the code of criminal procedure as the proceedings were initiated in a case of murder and it is logically impossible to clear ‘X’ as well as Kafando and thereby close the case,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Zongo was an investigative journalist and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant. His charred body was found in his car, along with the bodies of three other people, on 13 December 1998. Kafando was one of three members of the Presidential Security Battalion (BSP) who were later convicted in connection with a murder Zongo had been investigating at the time of his death.

“The case cannot be closed simply because eight years later a witness retracts a statement that undermined a suspect’s alibi,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “It is one thing for charges to be dropped against Kafando for lack of evidence. But the judicial authorities must continue to look for ‘X.’ If they do not, it will be clear that the Zongo case was closed for purely political reasons.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We call on Judge Ilboudo to admit he yielded to irresistible political pressure that ended up making his work impossible. When a representative of our organisation met him on 14 September 2005 at the Ouagadougou lawcourts, he expressed the personal conviction that Kafando and the BSP were involved in the Zongo murder and said he would do everything in his power to find the evidence. But he also spoke of the difficulties he was having, given the ‘law of silence’ surrounding the BSP.”

As a result of this conversation, Reporters Without Borders wrote an open letter to President Blaise Compaoré on 25 October 2005, the opening day of the recent presidential election campaign.

The letter said: “Investigating judge Wenceslas Ilboudo has tried to get all the witnesses to finally tell the whole truth. But without success. They fear for their safety if they break the law of silence. So the investigation has ground to a complete halt. Reporters Without Borders therefore asks you to appeal publicly to the witnesses in the Zongo case to speak without fear. This case will not progress if you do not give the witnesses your assurance that you will support them if they talk, and that you undertake to protect them.”

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