New York, April 26, 2007—Authorities in Burkina Faso must fully investigate a death threat against outspoken journalist and free speech activist Karim Sama, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Sama received an anonymous e-mail last week warning that he “will be gunned down” over commentary that is critical of the government.
Sama, host of two popular reggae programs on Radio Ouaga FM in the capital, Ouagadougou, said he received an April 18 e-mail stating: “Just inviting you to stop your nonsense at radio Ouaga FM. You must know that you will be gunned down very soon and nothing will happen.” The message continued, in incomplete sentences: “We have gunned down Norbert Zongo, nothing happened. You also your turn isn’t very far.”
The unsolved 1998 murder of Zongo, a prominent editor who was investigating the murder of a government driver, cast a chill over the local media. Sama has been outspoken in calling for justice in the murder of Zongo, according to local sources.
“The enemies of press freedom in Burkina Faso clearly feel emboldened by the government’s failure to solve the terrible slaying of Norbert Zongo,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Authorities must create a safe environment for the press, and that means investigating threats and finally bringing to justice the perpetrators in the Zongo murder.”
The e-mail pressed Sama to stop criticizing the policies of the government of President Blaise Compaoré, calling Compaoré “a divine blessing,” according to a copy of the message obtained by CPJ. Sama’s programs feature reggae songs with social justice themes, and he frequently airs critical commentary on alleged government injustice and corruption, local journalists told CPJ. Sama said he has received earlier threats for commentary unrelated to the Zongo case.
There was no official reaction from the government, but Sama filed a complaint with the police, Jean-Claude Meda, president of the Association of Burkinabè Journalists, told CPJ. An official with the state media regulator, the Superior Council on Communications, called the threats “unacceptable” and said the council would discuss whether the threats warranted further public comment. The official would not identify himself by name.
The station put Sama’s programs on hiatus last week over fears for his security, Director Gniehoun Zakaria told CPJ. “The threats surprised us; he has been critical for years now, but we never received an official complaint from the government,” he said. Sama said he plans to return to work this weekend.
Local press groups issued a joint statement condemning the threats, which came just four days after an international freedom of expression forum in Ouagadougou, according to Abdoulaye Diallo, chairman of the Norbert Zongo National Press Center. Sama, also a singer known as Sams’K le Jah, performed at the forum’s closing concert, Diallo told CPJ. “We are taking these threats very seriously; the tragic precedent of Norbert Zongo forces us to,” he said.