Time is pressing, 20 years after Burkinabe journalist’s murder

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the progress in the investigation into the murder of Norbert Zongo, a leading Burkinabe journalist whose body was found 20 years ago tomorrow, but calls on the authorities in France and Burkina Faso to accelerate the judicial proceedings so that those responsible can be finally brought to trial.

A major step forward was taken on 5 December when an appeal court in Paris ruled in favour of extraditing François Compaoré – deposed Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré’s brother – back to Burkina Faso to face trial there as the main instigator of Norbert Zongo’s murder. 

An investigative reporter and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant, Zongo had – just prior to his death – been investigating the suspicious death in detention of François Compaoré’s driver. The burned and bullet-riddled bodies of Zongo and three companions were found in a car on the side of a road on 13 December 1998. 

François Compaoré fled Burkina Faso after his brother was ousted in an uprising in October 2014. Since May 2017, he has been the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the Burkinabe authorities on suspicion of “inciting murders.” He was detained on landing in France on 29 October 2017 and was placed under French judicial control. 

The authorization of François Compaoré’s extradition back to Burkina Faso is a major step in the long judicial battle that must conclude with the leading suspects finally being tried for Norbert Zongo’s murder,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “But 20 years after the murder, there are still many obstacles and some of the suspects have already died. We urge the French and Burkinabe authorities to prioritize the resolution of this case so that Norbert Zongo, who inspired so many others to become investigative reporters, should not continue to be the symbol of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists.” 

Still under judicial control 

After the 5 December hearing, François Compaoré’s lawyers issued a statement claiming that the judicial control had been “lifted” and that there were now “no restrictions on his movements,” implying that he could leave France at any time. RSF is in a position to deny this. The 5 December ruling confirms that François Compaoré is still subject to French judicial control and therefore cannot leave the country. 

But an extradition will take time. His lawyers have already decided to appeal to the court of cassation. After the appeal’s rejection by the court of cassation, the French government would have to issue an order for his extradition, following which his lawyers could make a final appeal to the Council of State.

Without the extradition of the leading suspect – dubbed “the little president” in Burkina Faso because of the influence he wielded during his brother’s 27 years as president – it is hard to imagine any trial getting under way. But time is pressing. Three of the six main suspected perpetrators – all soldiers who were presidential bodyguards – have already died. The other three were charged in 2015 and are detained in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, pending trial. 

Burkina Faso is ranked 41st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Publié le 07.06.2021
Mise à jour le 07.06.2021