Trial has begun in Ouagadougou of a 35-year-old trader suspected to have issued threats in a viral audio against one of Burkina Faso’s prominent journalists, Ahmed Newton Barry.
The trader, whose name has not been revealed, appeared in court on July 15, 2022 on charges of “defamation, public insults, incitement to violence and destruction of private property through social networks,” according to the country’s Cybercrime Unit (Brigade Centrale de Lutte contre la Cybercriminalité – BCLCC).
In June 2022, the said audio which contained hate speech circulated online in Burkina Faso. In the audio, the suspect called on people to reduce to shambles the residence of Newton Ahmed Barry.
The voice in the viral audio clip, produced in the local language “Mooré,” attacked Barry and called on people “to burn down his house, completely demolish it, collect all the rubble and clear the land,” reports say. The speaker in the audio also described the journalist as a “terrorist who does not deserve to live in Burkina Faso.”
Ahmed Barry contacted Burkina Faso’s public prosecutor, Harouna Yoda, to report the death threat. The matter was subsequently reported to the country’s Cybercrime Unit. The BCLCC was able to arrest the suspect, who admitted that he produced the audio.
Barry is a former editor-in-chief of the private investigative newspaper, l’Evènement, and one-time Commissioner for Burkina Faso’s Independent Electoral Commission (CENI). Well-known for his outspoken views on Burkina Faso’s socio-political situation, Barry is a regular voice on many media platforms in the country.
The journalist is believed to have been targeted because of his stand on the cooperation between the Malian government and a Russian mercenary company. He explained that he had reservations on how beneficial the Russia-Mali collaboration to fight terrorism would be for both countries. The journalist made the comment, on May 19, 2022, during “Surface de vérité,” a live show of the privately-owned TV station BF1.
Barry told the MFWA that the author of the threat explained to the BCLCC that he was part of a pro-Russia WhatsApp group in Burkina Faso, and that members of the group were angered by what Barry had said, interpreting it as his (Barry’s) apparent dislike for Russia.
The content of the said audio caused outrage and indignation in the country. The Professional Media Organisations (OPM), thus, issued a statement on June 20, 2022 to condemn the threat.
“The Professional Media Organisations strongly condemn this extremist, gratuitous and unnecessary malice towards Mr. Barry”. The OPMs “call on the authorities of Burkina Faso to urgently ensure the safety of Newton Ahmed Barry,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, the case was adjourned to July 22, 2022, as the accused did not have any lawyer to defend him.
The journalist said that he does not really feel safe as the environment in the country is hostile, and anyone could become an enemy over night because of his/her opinions.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the threat and public incitement against journalist Ahmed Barry. While we welcome the commencement of legal proceedings against the author of the threat, we call on the authorities of Burkina Faso to take steps to guarantee the safety of the journalist.