A composite image of three male journalists speaking into microphones.
CPJ has called on authorities in Burkina Faso to ensure the safety of journalists Kalifara Séré (left), Adama Bayala, and Serge Atiana Oulon, who went missing in June 2024. (Screenshots: YouTube/BF1, YouTube/BF1, and photo courtesy of L'Événement)

Three journalists disappear, 3 media outlets suspended in Burkina Faso

Dakar, July 3, 2024—The Burkinabe authorities must do everything possible to find and ensure the safety of missing journalists Serge Atiana Oulon, Kalifara Séré, and Adama Bayala, and refrain from censoring the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

At least three Burkinabe journalists in the capital, Ouagadougou, have separately disappeared under suspicious circumstances in June.

In mid-June, the national media regulator High Council for Communication (CSC) temporarily suspended three media outlets:

  • the “7 Infos” program on privately owned television channel BF1
  • privately owned bimonthly newspaper L’Événement
  • French-language global broadcaster TV5 Monde

Since the transitional president, Ibrahim Traoré, took power in a military coup in 2022, CPJ has documented a deterioration of press freedom in Burkina Faso, including suspensions of media outlets, expulsions of foreign correspondents, and efforts to conscript critical journalists.

“The Burkinabe authorities must do everything possible to find and ensure the safety of journalists Adama Bayala, Serge Atiana Oulon, and Kalifara Séré, and guarantee that media professionals in Burkina Faso can work free of censorship for their critical coverage,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program, in New York. “The climate of fear in which journalists live in Burkina Faso undermines the public’s ability to be informed and understand how they are being governed at a time of rising insecurity across the country.”

The missing journalists are: 

  • Adama Bayala, a columnist who frequently appeared on the BF1 program “Presse Echos,” was last seen leaving his university office in his car on the afternoon of June 28. A person close to Bayala, who spoke to CPJ anonymously for security reasons, said Bayala was ill, received regular medical treatment, and had to follow a strict diet. That person said the journalist’s car remains missing.

The incident came after the CSC on June 19 ordered a one-month suspension of L’Événement’s online publication and distribution—including its social media—following Oulon’s report about a December 2022 investigation into alleged embezzlement of funds intended for the army’s civilian auxiliaries. L’Événement announced in a June 20 Facebook statement that it would challenge the decision in court.

Traoré criticized L’Evènement’s embezzlement investigation in a February 2023 interview with national TV broadcaster RTB, saying the outlet either did not have “the right information” or was acting in “bad faith” and that the report had installed a “climate of mistrust” between soldiers and army volunteers.

  • Kalifara Séré, a commentator for BF1, has not been seen since leaving CSC offices on the evening of June 18, according to a person familiar with the case and a family member of Séré, who both spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. 

Those sources told CPJ that Séré went to the CSC after the regulator suspended the BF1 program “7 Infos” for two weeks for rebroadcasting Séré’s June 16 on-air comments questioning the authenticity of images of Traoré broadcast by RTB, according to the regulator’s June 19 decision and a statement by BF1.

Police questioned Séré earlier on June 18 at the regional police station in the Wemtenga area of Ouagadougou about a defamation complaint by Désiré Nezien, director of the National Blood Transfusion Centre (CNTS), in connection to those June 16 comments.

Separately, on June 18, the CSC issued a six-month broadcast suspension against TV5 Monde and fined the outlet 50 million CFA francs (US$81,550) after they aired an interview with exiled Burkinabe journalist Newton Ahmed Barry about the country’s security situation.

Gildas Ouédraogo, director of communications for the CSC, told CPJ by messaging app that he was working to get authorization to answer questions.

CPJ’s calls and messages to government spokesperson Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo did not receive any replies. CPJ’s calls to the publicly listed number of the CNTS, the national police, and the gendarmerie were unanswered.