Reporters Without Borders today called on the citizens of Burkina Faso to dress in mourning tomorrow, the eighth anniversary of the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo, in protest against the denial of justice in this case resulting from eight years of judicial and political neglect and misconduct.
“Eight years after this journalist and three companions were murdered at Sapouy, an outrageous decision to dismiss all charges finally capped the shame of years of judicial inaction,” the press freedom organisation said. “By wearing an armband or dressing in black, the people of Burkina Faso can display their repudiation of those who murdered Norbert Zongo, Ernest Zongo, Ablassé Nikiema and Blaise Ilboudo.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “They can also show that the July decision to drop the charges against Sgt. Marcel Kafando will not satisfy their thirst for justice. Together with Norbert’s family and friends, we assert that the judicial investigation now closed by the prosecutor and judge was never conducted with the aim of solving these murders. The reasons why the Sapouy killers are not in prison are political.”
Zongo was an investigative journalist and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant, whose charred body was found along with the charred bodies of his three companions in their car in the southern town of Sapouy on 13 December 1998. At the time of his death he had been investigating the circumstances in which David Ouédraogo, the chauffeur of President Blaise Compaoré’s brother François, died at the hands of presidential guard members after being arrested on suspicion of stealing from his employer.
Following street protests, President Compaoré created an Independent Commission of Enquiry (CEI) to look into the multiple murder of Zongo and his companions. A few months later, the commission named “six leading suspects.”
Sgt. Kafando and two other presidential guard members were convicted in August 2000 of kidnapping Ouédraogo and torturing him to death. In February 2001, the public prosecutor went on to charge him with murder and arson in connection Zongo’s death. But despite the gravity of the charges, Kafando was allowed to continue living at his home in Ouagadougou all these years.
Investigating judge Wenceslas Ilboudo finally ruled on 19 July of this year that the investigation against “Marcel Kafando and any other unidentified person” for the murder of Zongo should be abandoned on the grounds that a prosecution witness had withdrawn a statement he had made eight years before. The ruling was confirmed on appeal, meaning that no further attempt would be made to find out who murdered Zongo.
At that stage, the investigation could only be reopened if “new evidence” was produced. This is what Reporters Without Borders did on 20 October, when it gave the Burkina Faso state prosecutor a copy of the original draft of the CEI’s report, before it was toned down on the insistence of two of the commission’s members, who represented the government.
Passages about the contradictions in François Compaoré’s statement and the attempts by businessman Oumarou Kanazoé to silence Zongo prior to his murder were completely eliminated from the final version of the report. The conclusions of the original report were also much more positive and detailed, and much more specific when identifying the “six leading suspects,” all members of the presidential guard.