Reporters Without Borders welcomes a decision by the African Court on Human Rights to examine the case of two Ouagadougou-based newspaper journalists who are serving jail sentences for libelling a prosecutor.
Issa Lohé Konaté, the editor of the weekly L’Ouragan, and Roland Ouédraogo, one of his reporters, were sentenced on 29 October 2012 to 12 months in prison, a fine of 4 million CFA francs (6,000 euros) and damages of 500,0000 CFA francs (750 euros).
Reporters Without Borders issued a press release at the time condemning the disproportionate nature of the sentence and stressing that imprisonment was never an appropriate punishment for media offences.
“We hope that the African Court, a higher judicial entity than the Ouagadougou court that imposed the sentence, will order the overturning of this decision,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is high time that the Burkina Faso authorities free these two journalists.”
Konaté and Ouédraogo were convicted of contempt of court and defaming state prosecutor Placide Nikiéma in articles about him. Konaté admitted that the articles amounted to professional misconduct and apologized.
31.10.2012 - Excessive prison terms and fines for two journalists
Issa Lohé Konaté, editor in chief of the weekly L’Ouragan, and Roland Ouédraogo, one of the magazine’s staff members, have been sentenced to 12 months in prison and a fine of four million CFA francs (6,000 euros), plus 500,0000 CFA francs (750 euros) in damages and interest.
The High Court of Justice of the capital city of Ouagadougou, which handed down the sentence on 29 October, also suspended publication of the magazine for six months.
Reporters Without Borders expressed deep concern over the harshness of these penalties. “Prison and heavy fines are never a fair response to errors made in the practice of journalism,” said Christophe Deloire, director general of the press freedom organization.
In two articles published in its 1 August issue, L’Ouragan accused state prosecutor Placide Nikiéma of trafficking in counterfeit currency and of acting as enemy of justice. A second article in the following edition was headlined, “Justice denied, Faso prosecutor a hoodlum justice official?”
Nikiéma then filed a legal complaint alleging defamation, abuse and contempt of court conducted through the press.
Konaté has admitted that publication of the articles amounted to professional misconduct, for which he apologized. His attorney, describing the sentence as unjust, is planning to appeal.
Deloire of the press freedom organization acknowledged that a legal response to the articles was understandable. But imposing prison sentences for a press law violation was “disproportionate and counter-productive,” he said. In addition, he said, the high court decision sets a dangerous precedent, especially in light of the expectation that Burkina Faso would decriminalize press law violations.
“The financial penalties threaten to put L’Ouragan out of business,” Deloire added. “We hope that the legal appeal will lead to a reasonable and appropriate sentence reduction.”
Photo : Court of Ouagadougou (Damien Meyer / AFP)