A week ago today, CPJ sent a letter of concern to President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso urging his government to investigate a series of death threats sent in the past year or so via e-mail to independent journalists there. Using Yahoo France accounts, senders have boasted about intimidating the press in impunity by referencing the still-unsolved 1998 murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo.
Well, Yahoo France and French police are now officially on the case, according to Christophe Pelletier, a spokesman for Yahoo France, who called me today. I had forwarded to Yahoo France an e-mail that staffers at the monthly Le Reporter received in their inbox on January 20.
“Within an hour of receiving the information, our legal experts, who were out of the office at the time, were working remotely to process this case,” Pelletier told me. “We don’t know if this is bogus or not, but we are not taking any chances.” He said it was a legal obligation for them to notify the police whenever a user sends threats through their service. According to Pelletier, Yahoo France provided information about the account used to send the most recent messages to Le Reporter to the French police’s Central Office for Combating Information and Communication Technology Crime, known as OCLCTIC.
For nearly two years now, since CPJ first uncovered e-mail death threats sent to radio commentator Karim Sama, Burkina Faso official investigations have failed to produce any leads or arrests. With the killers of Zongo still at large, this has reinforced the message that those who intimidate outspoken voices in the press will go unpunished.