New York — The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the criminal convictions of two journalists and the suspension of their newspaper in Burkina Faso on charges of criminal defamation in connection with their allegations of corrupt practices in the state prosecutor's office.
A judge in the capital, Ouagadougou, sentenced Roland Ouédraogo, editor-in-chief of the private weekly L'Ouragan, and Lohé Issa Konaté, the paper's editor, to 12 months in prison and a fine of 1.5 million CFA francs (US$2,900) on charges of defaming State Prosecutor Placide Nikiéma, news reports said. The judge also banned the paper from circulation for six months and sentenced the two journalists to pay a total of 4 million CFA francs (US$7,800) in damages to Nikiéma in addition to the fine, the reports said.
News accounts reported that the journalists' lawyer, Halidou Ouédraogo, said they would be appealing, but Konaté was imprisoned after the sentencing. News reports did not indicate whether Ouédraogo had been imprisoned.
The charges were based on two articles published in the August 1 and August 8 editions of L'Ouragan, copies of which were obtained by CPJ. The articles detailed alleged abuse of power by the prosecutor's office, including obstruction, in the handling of a high-profile case of currency counterfeiting and a family dispute over inheritance assets. The prosecutor denied the allegations and said his honor had been tarnished, news reports said.
"The prosecutor's office should not be allowed to turn its critics into criminals," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on judicial authorities to allow Lohé Issa Konaté and Roland Ouédraogo to be free pending their appeal, reverse these convictions, and focus their attention instead on the allegations raised by L'Ouragan."
The Society of Editors of the Private Press released a statement after the sentencing in which it expressed shock and said, "Since the inception of the press in Burkina Faso, such sanctions have never been registered." The group also called for the decriminalization of press offenses in the country.