Reporters Without Borders voiced its support today for the Ouagadougou-based fortnightly L’Evénement, which is accused of libelling the president’s brother, François Compaoré, by linking him to the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo. The trial is due to start today in Ouagadougou.
“After last year’s outrageous decision to dismiss all charges and close the Zongo case, this year begins with a high-profile libel suit against a newspaper,” the press freedom organisation said. “Referring with too much precision to François Compaoré’s role in the Zongo murder has clearly become a well-established taboo under President Blaise Compaoré.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “In practice, L’Evénement is under attack just for reporting the local news, covering what Reporters Without Borders did in connection with the case, and challenging the prevailing culture of impunity.”
The subject of the lawsuit is several articles in the 25 October issue concerning a news conference about the Zongo case which Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard had given in Ouagadougou five days before. The president’s brother above all felt he had been libelled by front-page headline, accompanied by his photo, that said: “So it’s him, François Compaoré. Until now we had not been able to say his name. Reporters Without Borders has finally done it.”
At the news conference five days before, Reporters Without Borders had called on the Burkina Faso state prosecutor to reopen the Zongo murder case on the grounds of new evidence produced by Ménard linking François Compaoré and businessman Oumarou Kanazoé to the case.
The inside pages of L’Evénement’s issue contained three reports, an editorial and a press release about the case. The first report, headlined “The lies of the witnesses François Compaoré and Oumarou Kanazoé,” was about the documents which Reporters Without Borders had handed over to the state prosecutor.
The second report, headlined “No one more blind that the one who refuses to see,” criticised the refusal of the judicial authorities to reopen the case, despite the new evidence produced by Reporters Without Borders. The third one, headlined “So it’s him, François Compaoré?,” was about the murkier aspects of his role in the case. The editorial criticised the failure of the attorney general and state prosecutor to do their job. The press release was the one issued by Reporters Without Borders condemning the judicial authorities’ refusal to reopen the case on the grounds of the new evidence.
Investigating judge Wenceslas Ilboudo issued a decision on 19 July 2006 dismissing all charges against the leading suspect, former presidential guard chief Marcel Kafando. According to article 189 of the code of criminal procedure, the case could thereafter only be reopened if there were “new accusations” liable to “strengthen the accusations that have already proved too weak” or to “contribute new developments useful in establishing the truth.”
Zongo was an investigative journalist and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant. His charred body and those of three companions were found on 13 December 1998.