The question is on the minds of more and more public figures in Burkina Faso. How much longer will they be able to express themselves freely? Since the junta came to power in a coup in September 2022 – the second in eight months – freedom for political parties, human rights activists and journalists has been dwindling. Parties have had their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly curtailed. In a statement issued on February 14, the Union for Progress and Reform party, which has long been in opposition, said the government had prohibited the next meeting of its political bureau.
At the end of January, another party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, was issued a “warning” after meeting in an ordinary session. The reason given by the authorities was contained in a simple statement issued on September 30, the day of the coup that brought the military to power, ordering the suspension of “the activities of political parties.” “A very dangerous language is emerging, marginalizing and even intimidating dissenting voices,” Ousmane Diallo, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, said.
For the military, the objective is to consolidate power by unifying public opinion around a single narrative marked by the army’s victories over jihadist groups that have been steadily expanding their hold since 2015, to the point where they now control more than 40% of the country . In mid-January, a series of four unsigned posters targeting “all those who do not support the defense and security forces (FDS)” circulated online. “If you tarnish the image of the FDS, I will expose your private life on social media,” one read while another called “civilian terrorists” those whose online posts are seen as going “against the fight against terrorism.”
Kidnappings and executions
Committed to an all-security strategy aimed at arming more than 50,000 civilians to fight with the army against terrorism, the junta and its supporters “are trying to muzzle freedom of expression, especially that of human rights defenders,” Daouda Diallo said.
Diallo, the secretary general of an organization fighting officials’ impunity and ethnic stigmatization, experienced this bitterly after denouncing, at the beginning of January, the “extrajudicial executions” carried out by armed men “claiming to be ‘volunteers for the defense of the country (a name given to civilian auxiliaries of the army)'” in the city of Nouna, western Burkina Faso.
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In this locality, on December 30 last year, 30 were killed according to the government. Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty said that more than 80 people, mainly Fulani, were killed. Diallo, himself a Fulani, claims to have been the subject of “surveillance” and even “kidnapping attempts.” “I received calls saying that I should be put out of existence. On the radio, speakers also called to kill people like me who, they said, were accomplished of the terrorists,” he said. On January 8, the government said it deeply regretted “the hateful or ethnicist language seen on social media.”
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