The IPI global network has joined with 29 other local and international media groups and press defense organizations in calling on leading regional and international institutions to ensure that press freedom and freedom of expression are respected and protected in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Both countries are currently under military-led regimes, which have targeted government critics. Foreign journalists have been forced to leave the country, while local reporters face threats, particularly on social media, and have been compelled to self-censor.
The groups’ open letter follows a series of grave press freedom violations recorded in Burkina Faso and Mali over the last several months.
Recently, two French journalists, Agnes Faivre and Sophie Douce, working for the newspapers Liberation and Le Monde Afrique, based in France, were summoned by the authorities in Burkina Faso in early April and notified that they had to leave the country despite being duly accredited. Prior to the duo’s expulsion, Burkina Faso had banned the broadcasting of two France-based media, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France 24.
IPI had previously called on the military regime in Burkina Faso to respect media independence and press freedom.
In Mali, RFI and France 24 were similarly suspended by the authorities amid tensions with France. A journalist working with the Pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique was expelled in 2022, while local and foreign journalists faced abduction by armed groups.
Critical journalists in both countries have faced online threats, and journalists and media outlets have turned to self-censorship fearing attacks from state authorities and partisan groups close to the military government.
For instance, Malick Konate, a critical journalist in Mali, told IPI that, given the deteriorating situation of press freedom, and growing threats to his life because of his work as a journalist, he was obliged to leave the country. In Burkina Faso, critical journalists and media houses have faced threats and intimidation.
Below is the full letter with recommendations.
Open letter about protecting journalists and defending freedom of expression and press freedom in Mali and Burkina Faso
For the attention of :
- The President of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union
- The President of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS
- The President of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of WAEMU
- The Chair of the African Union Commission
- The President of the ECOWAS Commission
- The President of the WAEMU Commission
- The President of the Pan-African Parliament
- The UN Secretary-General
- The President of the UN Human Rights Council
- The Director-General of UNESCO
- The Secretary-General of the OIF
- The heads of the media regulatory bodies of the 15 ECOWAS countries
- The President of the Francophone Network of Media Regulators
- The President of the Platform of Broadcasting Regulators of WAEMU member countries and Guinea
- The Ministers of Communication of the 15 ECOWAS member countries
- The Chair of the African Broadcasting Union
What with calls for journalists and opinion leaders to be murdered, threats and intimidation against the national press, grotesquely fabricated accusations against journalists, the suspension of local broadcasting by French international news outlets RFI and France 24, and the expulsion of reporters with the French newspapers Libération and Le Monde – the threats to freedom of expression and press freedom are very worrying in Burkina Faso. Measures taken by this country’s authorities, especially in recent months, are liable to undermine the public’s fundamental right to be informed. Freedom begins where ignorance ends.
Journalists and opinion leaders are increasingly subjected to harassment and intimidation in Mali as well. In November and December 2022, the news channel Joliba TV was suspended by the High Authority for Communication (HAC) after it broadcast an editorial deemed critical of the authorities. The Maison de la Presse in Bamako was ransacked on 20 February 2023. Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, a radio columnist better known by the pseudonym Ras Bath, was charged, and imprisoned on 13 March for denouncing former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga’s “assassination.” Rokia Doumbia, the influencer also known as “Rose vie chère,” was arrested on 15 March for referring to inflation and the transitional government’s “failure.” The journalist Aliou Touré was abducted by masked gunmen on 6 April and was not found until four days later.
Here too, the international press is far from being spared. In February 2022, a Jeune Afrique reporter was deported from Bamako. A month later, RFI and France 24 were silenced throughout Mali.
In both Burkina Faso and Mali, these attacks are increasingly amplified on social media by “influencers” who support the military governments in these two countries, who play at dispensers of justice and issue death threats against journalists and opinion leaders they regard as overly independent. Lies are now being added to the violence. The headline “Installation of a regime of terror” in the Burkinabe daily L’Observateur Paalga was accompanied by a flood of fake news in the social media that specialise in falsehoods. The victims of these “influencers” are the Malian and Burkinabe public, who are deprived of a democratic debate.
Amid what is a serious security crisis in both countries, journalists are all aware of their crucial duty to inform the public. They also understand the complexity of the political, geopolitical, and military context. They also live and suffer the serious consequences of this security crisis. Like all citizens, they want a quick return to peace. However, the fight against terrorism must not, in any way, serve as a pretext for imposing a new reporting standard and restricting the fundamental rights of the Malian and Burkinabe public to seek and access news and information through professional and independent media.
In Burkina Faso, the situation of journalists has become so critical that even the entity in charge of regulation is alarmed. In a press release published on 29 March, the Superior Council for Communication (CSC) said it “notes with regret the recurrence of threats against media outlets and media actors” and asked the authorities to “take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the media and journalists in the course of their work.”
On 6 April, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said he was “deeply troubled” by the restrictions on the media in Burkina Faso. “In this period of transition, protection of independent voices is more necessary than ever,” he added.
On 20 February, Alioune Tine, the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, said he was “extremely concerned about the restriction of civic space and freedom of expression and association” in Mali.
In the light of all these facts, we, the signatories of this open letter,
- Urge the authorities of Mali and Burkina Faso to put an end to all measures that undermine press freedom.
- Note a lack of protection by the security forces and a silence from the judiciary in response to the intimidation campaigns and death threats against journalists in these two countries. While respecting the independence of justice, we call on prosecutors and police officers to respond more to such acts, which are punishable under criminal law.
- Call on the authorities of these two countries to guarantee the protection and safety of all media professionals who are the victims of threats, intimidation, harassment and physical attacks.
- Call on the authorities to carry out impartial, effective and independent investigations to shed light on abuses committed against journalists, and to identify and prosecute those responsible.
- Call on both governments to respect the international obligations signed and ratified by their countries regarding freedom of expression and press freedom, in particular the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Call on the national authorities and pan-African and international bodies to whom this open letter is addressed to support this initiative at the highest level. Access to news and information is a fundamental right of peoples. On this World Press Freedom Day, it is essential to defend and protect it.
- AfrikaJom Center
- Association of Online Press Publishers and Professionals (APPEL Senegal)
- Burkina Faso Journalists Association (AJB)
- Courrier confidentiel (Burkina Faso)
- Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism (CENOZO)
- Norbert Zongo National Press Centre (CNP-NZ Burkina Faso)
- Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)
- International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- France 24 (France)
- Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
- Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- International Press Institute (IPI)
- Jeune Afrique (France)
- Joliba TV News (Mali)
- Le Pays (Burkina Faso)
- Le Monde (France)
- Lefaso.net (Burkina Faso)
- Le Reporter (Burkina Faso)
- L’Événement (Burkina Faso)
- Libération (France)
- L’Observateur Paalga (Burkina Faso)
- Radio France Internationale (France)
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Burkina Faso Society of Privately-owned Press Publishers (SEP)
- Omega Médias (Burkina Faso)
- International Francophone Press Union (UPF)
- Union of West African Journalists (UJAO)
- 24heures.bf (Burkina Faso)
- Wakat Sera (Burkina Faso)