63 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 274,200 sq. km.
Head of state: Blaise Compaoré, since 1987
The written press is relatively free and criticism tolerated in this “country of honest men”, but the climate remains poisoned by the most momentous case for press freedom on the continent, the 1998 murder of the journalist Norbert Zongo.
Thousands of people gathered in the capital city Ouagadougou for a demonstration, a concert and a debate on press freedom in the university auditorium in December 2008 to mark the tenth anniversary of the murder of Norbert Zongo. They protested against the slowness of the investigation and the impunity enjoyed by the alleged killers, as well as those who instigated his murder.
The editor of the weekly L’Indépendant and the country’s most influential journalist was found dead in his burn-out car along with three other people on a provincial road on 13 December 1998. The authorities set up an independent investigative Commission (CEI) entrusted with “determining the causes of the death” of Norbert Zongo that submitted its report to the prime minister less than six months later. It concluded after interviewing more than 200 people about “the motives for this quadruple murder [...], that they need to be sought in relation to the investigations carried out for a number of years by the journalist, and especially his most recent investigations into the death of David Ouedraogo, the driver of François Compaoré, adviser to the president [his brother]”. The report also gave the names of six “serious suspects” in the case, all of whom were members of the presidential guard.
Only one of them, Marcel Kafando, was charged in 2001 with “arson” and “murder”. Warrant officer Kafando, who was also convicted in 2000 for “holding captive and torturing to death” David Ouédraogo, continued to live a trouble-free existence at his home in the capital and to receive his military pay. Worse still in 2006 the Burkina justice system, to general astonishment, dismissed the case. The decision was condemned by local and international human rights and press freedom organisations since it allowed the courts to shelve the file for ten years at the end of which it can be definitively closed. President Blaise Compaoré convinces no-one today when he says the investigation remains “open”. “Norbert Zongo: case closed?” became a slogan for those still campaigning for justice for the journalist and determined to keep his memory alive.
Even if criticism is allowed in Burkina Faso and embarrassing investigations are generally made public, pointing the finger at the head of state, his family or his close associates remains a risky exercise. Publisher and editor of the privately owned bi-monthly L’Evénement were sentenced to two-month suspended prison sentences for libelling François Compaoré in January 2007. Several journalists have received death threats by email. One of them, Karim Sama, known as Sam’s K le Jah, an artist and presenter on radio Ouaga FM, had his car torched as part of a campaign of intimidation against him. He often uses his weekly programme “Roots Rock Reggae” which is listened to well beyond Burkina Faso’s borders, to criticise President Blaise Compaoré.