February 17, 2009
H.E. Blaise Compaoré
President of the Republic of Burkina Faso
c/o The Embassy of the Republic of Burkina Faso to the United States
2340 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Via facsimile: (202) 667-1882
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to express concern about a series of death threats aimed at independent journalists that have referenced the unsolved murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998. We call on you to ensure that the government thoroughly investigates these threats and protect the well-being of all journalists.
Since 2007, CPJ has documented three cases in which unidentified individuals have threatened via anonymous e-mail messages to kill journalists covering sensitive national issues. Most recently, CPJ obtained an e-mail with the subject “We will do you in” that had been sent to the staff of independent monthly Le Reporter on January 20 after it covered a widely reported financial scandal at the National Social Security Fund.
The message chastises the paper for publishing the names of five officials who allegedly received illegal loans of public funds from the fund’s coffers. At least two of the officials have denied the allegations, according to local journalists. The story was based on a report from the Court of Auditors, which disclosed the allegations, but did not name any officials, according to media reports.
In the e-mail, the sender, identifying as “Compaoré Issouffou Yandé,” threatened to kill staffers of Le Reporter like Zongo, who was brutally assassinated in 1998 while investigating the murder of a presidential driver. The message also threatens Editor-in-Chief Newton Ahmed Barry of the bimonthly L’événement, known for being critical of the government. Barry told CPJ he received the same e-mail the same day from the same address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Both Le Reporter and Barry filed police complaints, according to local journalists.
The sender also claimed responsibility for burning the vehicle of radio commentator Karim Sama, known for his activism in the Zongo murder case. Sama’s white BMW was set on fire on September 28, 2007, outside the studios of private radio station Ouaga FM, according to the Media Foundation of West Africa. The attack echoed the burning of Zongo’s car by his assassins, and forced Sama to stop broadcasting his entertainment program until May 2008. Prior to the incident, Sama said he had received threatening e-mails warning that he “will be gunned down” for criticizing the policies of your government, and a blank white envelope signed “death” in red ink.
Speaking with CPJ last week, Security Ministry spokesman Allassane Neya said the government was investigating the threats against Le Reporter and would take all necessary measures to investigate the claims. He invited journalists to come forward with information. The Supreme Communications Council, the official media regulator, was also investigating the matter, according to Secretary-General Etienne Songre Sawadogo. “These are death threats we cannot take lightly,” he told CPJ. The council will release a report after questioning the journalists, he added.
However, despite these assurances, official investigations in the threats against Sama have stalled. While one person was arrested in the arson attack, the suspect has not been formally charged, according to local journalists. Despite the assignment of a magistrate to investigate the e-mail threats, there have been no arrests or suspects identified in the e-mail threats, according to the same sources. Yet Yahoo France, the Internet service provider used to send the threats, told CPJ it could trace the computer sending the e-mails if it received a police request.
Mr. President, these threats, which aim to intimidate the press into self-censorship, create a climate of fear for your country’s media. We call on you to use your influence to ensure the government follows through on the public pledges to carry out thorough and transparent investigations and apprehend those responsible. To fail to do so would strengthen a climate of impunity for the enemies of the press who are already emboldened by the fact that the killers of Zongo are still at large, 10 years after his murder.