Burkinabe coup: journalist rights violations likely to continue

However the crisis in Burkina Faso is resolved, we can be almost sure that journalists and media workers will continue to be targeted, wrote IMS’ Media Adviser, Michelle Betz as she left the country on one of the last flights out of the country during the 16 September coup d’état.

People make fire during protest against President Blaise Compaore’s plan to change the constitution to stay in power near the Congress for Democracy and Progress party building in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso last year in late October.

It had been an exhausting but exciting and fulfilling two weeks criss-crossing the West African country of Burkina Faso with our Media and Elections Caravan. We had trained close to 200 journalists in Koudougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouahigouya, Fada N’Gourma and Kaya and had also brought together journalists, politicians and representatives of civil society – all to prepare for the 11 October presidential and legislative elections.

As I got set to head to the airport on 16 September, there were rumours of a coup that was not quite a coup. I made some calls and had heard that the RSP (Presidential Security Regiment) had stormed a council of ministers meeting. I knew there would be a lot of rumours but also that things could change incredibly quickly. I decided to head to the airport anyways.

The streets of Ouagadougou appeared normal, people sitting in restaurants and cafes by the side of the street. And then we reached the city centre and a line of trucks, cars and motorbikes with men yelling came towards us from the direction in which we were driving. I had no idea what they were saying. The driver and I looked at each other. He closed the windows and locked the doors. I suggested he make a detour. He turned right.

The rest of the drive was uneventful and the airport was calm. But to me it seemed that something was going on. Airport employees were speaking in hushed tones to each other or on their mobile phones. I tried to make some calls but the networks were busy and I couldn’t get through to anyone.

I ended up getting on one of the last flights out before the borders were closed the following day. By the time I got to Europe I learned that journalists and media outlets had been targeted. Equipment at Omega FM and Savane FM in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital, was destroyed, Radio Laafi, some 100 km east of Ouagadougou was burned while several journalists in Ouagadougou were attacked and several journalists became the target of surveillance. Many radio stations stopped broadcasting out of fear.

However the crisis is resolved, what we can be almost sure of is that journalists and media workers will continue to be targeted. Radio stations will need to be re-equipped and free to broadcast and assurances must be made that journalists will not be targeted.

As part of IMS’ rapid response mandate, we continue to work with our local partners to provide appropriate support to Burkina Faso’s media sector during this critical period.