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Burkina Faso12 December 2007

Government still trying to cover up truth nine years after newspaper editor’s murder

On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the death of newspaper editor Norbert Zongo and three companions, Reporters Without Borders today said it would not give up its campaign to know the truth about their murder. They were probably killed by members of the presidential guard under the authority of the president’s brother, François Compaoré.

“All of the government’s soothing statements about its desire to let the police and justice system work independently have been an insult to the Zongo family,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is clear that the authorities, from the president’s office to the state prosecutor’s office, have done everything possible to prevent the investigation from advancing. At the same time, the authorities have tried in vain to buy the family’s silence.”

Reporters Without Borders added : “But all these efforts to mask the truth will never change the reality. All this time there have been strong suspicions and damning evidence that the murderers of Zongo and his friends are to be found within the presidential guard. We will keep on campaigning until justice is done.”

Zongo was an investigative journalist and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant. His 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 looking into how 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. Marcel 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 Kafando 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 2006 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 2006, 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.

A court imposed two-month suspended prison sentences and fines of 300,000 CFA francs (450 euros) on 22 January of this year on Germain Bitiou Nama, the publisher of the privately-owned fortnightly L’Evénement, and Newton Ahmed Barry, its editor, for allegedly libelling the president’s brother in articles about the news conference on the Zongo case that Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard gave in Ouagadougou on 20 October 2006.

The newspaper’s issue of 25 October 2006 had a front-page photo of the president’s brother under a headline 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.”

Government emissaries have often approached members of the Zongo family, especially his widow, since 1999 offering financial compensation in return for “a pardon.” The family has always refused such a deal on the grounds that, since no one has yet been convicted of Zongo’s murder, there is still “no one to pardon.”

In this country
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Arson attack on radio host’s car marks escalation in intimidation campaign
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