The fourth anniversary of the death of Norbert Zongo, editor of the weekly L’Indépendant, came and went in December 2002 with the reign of impunity still unshaken. The investigation made no progress and the authorities did everything possible to ensure that the case never comes to trial. Those suspected of being behind Zongo’s death have never been questioned by the judicial authorities.
Access to information continued to be very difficult. Senior officials in ministries and government agencies were especially reluctant to give information to journalists considered close to the opposition.
In a joint statement marking World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, a number of national associations commented: "The all-powerful state-owned broadcasters tilt the balance of information in favour of the government in place. Journalists must choose between bowing to the dictates of those in power or resigning and joining the thousands of unemployed." Two weeks later, the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and the Rights of Peoples (MBDHP) denounced the harassment of journalists.
The government set up a ministry for the promotion of human rights on 10 June in response to the repeated protests of local and international organisations. The new ministry said it was committed to press freedom but took no concrete steps to achieve this.
New information on journalists killed before 2002
President Blaise Compaoré commented on the death of journalist Norbert Zongo in an interview in June for the monthly L’Evénement. "Like you, I would also like the case to progress," he said. But he also stressed that the judiciary was independent and that he had no authority over the judicial investigation and "no working relation with the judges."
On 13 December, the fourth anniversary of the discovery of Zongo’s burned body in his car, along with the bodies of three companions, Reporters Without Borders asked the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, to visit Burkina Faso as soon as possible. It also asked the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, to take up the case and to press the Burkinabe authorities to hold a trial as soon as possible.
Zongo’s murder was followed by a wave of protest throughout the country. The government set up an independent commission of enquiry with the task of determining the causes of his death. It submitted its findings to the prime minister on 7 May 1999. After questioning more than 200 persons, the commission concluded that, "the motives for this quadruple murder should be sought in the investigations carried out over years by the journalist, in particular, his recent investigations into the dead of David Ouedraogo, the driver of presidential adviser François Compaoré." Aside from François Compaoré (the president’s brother), the commission named six "serious suspects," all members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP).
Although deeply implicated in the case, François Compaoré has only been questioned once by the judge, in January 2001, more than two years after the murder. Two weeks later, public prosecutor Abdoulaye Barry charged Marcel Kafando, a senior member of the RSP, with "murder" and "arson" in connection with the case. Reporters Without Borders voiced its concern about the state of Kafando’s health in December. He is a key element in the investigation and his death could result in the case being closed.
The motives for the death of journalist Michel Congo on 21 October 2001 were still unknown at the end of 2002. Congo, 23, a student of journalism and contributor to the privately-owned daily 24 Heures, was shot and stabbed to death in his home. The public prosecutor said on 22 May that the case was "very complex" and that investigators still lacked the evidence needed to charge anyone.
Two journalists detained
Liermé Somé, editor of the weekly L’Indépendant was detained by the Ouagadougou gendarmerie on 14 May 2002 and questioned about an article quoting an MBDHP statement referring to the "suspicious death" of a person detained by the gendarmerie.
Christophe Koffi, the correspondent of Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reporters Without Borders, was detained on 7 August by four plain-clothes policemen who took his computer and papers. Without mentioning any charge, they said they wanted to question him about the murder a few days earlier of Balla Kéïta, a former minister in the Ivory Coast government who had joined the opposition and then obtained political asylum in Burkina Faso. The police released Koffi two days later and returned what had been taken. However, security minister Djibril Bassolé accused Koffi on 13 August of running an information network and of having "intelligence" contacts with "a number of foreign powers."
Pressure and obstruction
Newton Ahmed Barry, editor of L’Evénement, was accused in August 2002 by the security minister and chief of staff of the gendarmerie of being a spy in the pay of Ivory Coast. L’Evénement said the charge was designed both to discredit Barry and eliminate a publication of growing influence. The minister also accused L’Evénement of being "a nest of communist subversion." Barry had recently run an article accusing the two officials of being the "McCarthys of a Burkina in danger" and of having fabricated "Rosenbergs," including Koffi, the AFP correspondent.