Burkinabe legislative threat to press freedom must be declared unconstitutional

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Burkina Faso’s Constitutional Council to strike down a newly passed law containing amendments to the criminal code that would criminalize certain kinds of online content, including fake news and terrorism reporting that could have negative consequences.

Adopted by Burkina Faso’s national assembly on 21 June, the law provides for harsh penalties for fake news and for “reporting on terrorism or on the security forces whose consequences could compromise public order and the conduct of security operations.”

Under the new law, these offences are punishable by five to ten years in prison and fines of up to 10 million CFA francs. One amendment would criminalize “online publications that insult the memory of a deceased person without consideration for the person’s family.”

The UK’s Guardian newspaper quoted human rights minister Bessolé René Bagaro as saying that, under the new law, journalists “don’t have the right to give the position of security forces, because that will help the enemy know how we are organising ourselves.”

The minister added: “For example, if there is an attack and you publish pictures, you say that people are fleeing, the army is losing, you encourage [the enemy]. So it’s very precise.”

Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office, said: “As well as allowing the authorities to exercise very close control over reporting, this law imposes extremely serious restrictions on the freedom to inform in a country hitherto regarded as press freedom model. We urge Burkina Faso’s Constitutional Council to prevent this law from being promulgated by declaring it unconstitutional.”

On 3 July, the Constitutional Council decided on its own initiative to examine the new law to determine whether to complies with the constitution. Legal experts say that, in this particular case, the council must issue its decision within 30 days.

Burkina Faso is ranked 36th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 11.06.2021