Reports confirm that Burkina Faso has suspended broadcasts by the reputed French media outlet France 24 after it aired an interview with al-Qaida’s North African wing AQIM head. France 24 had earlier aired an interview with Yezid Mebarek, also known as Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, who claimed leadership as the emir of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM) after his predecessor was killed in a French raid.
The landlocked West African country’s Minister of Communication said in a statement, “France 24 is not only acting as a mouthpiece for these terrorists but worse, it is providing a space for the legitimization of terrorist actions and hate speech,” by interviewing the head of AQIM. In response to the Minister’s statement, the French broadcaster retorted saying, “The channel never gave him the floor directly and reported only what the interviewee said during a studio conversation with one of its journalists” according to an Al-Jazeera report. The French-government funded France 24 also said the move was based on “unfounded accusations”. Furthermore, Wassim Nasr, the journalist who interviewed the AQIM chief told VOA news,
“When we speak to Burkinabe journalists or human rights activists or social or civil society activists, they all feel that banning free press is happening today, bit by bit. And they are very scared of speaking out about things that are happening and what’s going wrong in the country.”
This marks the second time Ouagadougou has banned a French media broadcaster after it suspended Radio France International, a French-government-sponsored radio group alleging a similar reason for giving a platform to terrorist organizations. These events have soured the relations between Burkina Faso and France, furthering the divide between Ouagadougou and its former colonizer. The banning of France 24 is a disturbing sign of continued crackdown against the free press and right to information in Burkina Faso and has been condemned by the international community including Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF). It is also a telltale sign of the growing anti-French sentiment, not only in Burkina Faso but among the whole region of former French colonies.
Burkina Faso has been in the midst of civil and political turmoil for years since its first terrorist attack happened in 2016, following which jihadist groups, mostly affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS have wreaked havoc across the region. The country also experienced a military coup in September 2022 when Captain Ibrahim Traore of the Burkinabe Armed Forces assumed power. Since then, violence has increased manifold, with attacks on civilians by AQIM and ISIS-affiliated armed groups, coupled with state security and government armed forces conducting abusive counterterrorism operations forcing 1.9 million people from their homes, as reported by Human Rights Watch.
The ban on media broadcasters casts a doubt on the ruling military government’s commitment to democracy since freedoms of opinion, the press, and the right to access information are safeguarded under article 8 of the 1991 amended constitution, and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), as noted by Human Rights Watch. The government should restore free media and freedom of expression as soon as possible and aid in the fight against jihadist extremism within its territory.
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