Reporters Without Borders

10 years of cover-up, 10 years of campaigning

10 years of cover-up, 10 years of campaigning

Published on Wednesday 20 May 2009. Updated on Wednesday 3 June 2009.
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Copyright AFP

Reporters Without Borders supported activities in Ouagadougou in December 2008 to mark the 10th anniversary of the murder of leading Burkina Faso journalist Norbert Zongo. The government and judicial authorities are agreed on the desirability of shelving the case for good, but the country’s journalists associations and those who demonstrated on the streets of Ouagadougou think differently.

An avenue was chosen to immortalise a name that had become of the symbol for martyred journalists in Africa. Its symbolic renaming as “Avenue Norbert Zongo” under the aegis of Reporters Without Borders did not please the authorities. They could have done without this, the latest in a long line of demonstration in homage to Zongo but they had not anticipated the determination of Burkina Faso’s NGOs, journalists unions and human rights groups.

These groups have campaigned and demonstrated for 10 years for light to be shone on Zongo’s murder and those responsible to be brought to justice. But the political and judicial authorities have responded with 10 years of all kinds of obstruction and stalling in order to defuse the case and discourage any thought of identifying those behind his murder.

There has been barely-concealed pressure on judges, fantastically acrobatic contortions in the judicial proceedings and threats against journalists who showed too much initiative. An extensive repressive arsenal was deployed because so much was at stake.

Breaking down the wall of silence

“We should not delude ourselves, the Zongo case is very political because it involves the country’s highest official,” said a young lawyer who has been following the case for several years. François, President Blaise Compaoré’s brother, has been named several times in connection with the case but so far he has been left alone. And most of those involved in the murder calmly hold forth on the streets of Ouagadougou, convinced that they will remain unpunished.

The organisations that have been fighting for the truth to emerge are now concentrating on trying to break down the wall of silence and the far-reaching tentacles of complicity surrounding the case. As a proverb of the Mossi, Burkina Faso’s largest ethnic group, says: “The truth is the truth, whatever the time.” Action is needed to ensure that the facts of this case come to light and are preserved for the nation’s memory.

The activists are keeping up the pressure with a series of initiatives: an international “Norbert Zongo” petition, an open letter to the president, and the involvement of leading intellectuals and performers. A music album was brought out for the 10th anniversary entitled “Case closed.” Far from abating, the campaign for the truth has gained strength in recent years.

“We will fight to the end so that the instigators and perpetrators of this horrible murder are identified and punished,” the young lawyer added.

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