Burkina Faso: journalist sentenced in absentia

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) urges the Burkinabe authorities to drop all charges against Newton Ahmed Barry, journalist and former president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

On December 29, 2023, the courts found Barry guilty of defamation, sentencing him to a two-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 250,000 FCFA. He will also have to pay 500,000 FCFA in damages to the Minister and delete the offending content from his Facebook page. Barry was sentenced in absentia for defamation of the Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Kassoum Coulibaly.

Months after his conviction by the High Court of Ouaga I, the veteran journalist still does not know all the details of the complaint or the alleged facts that led to his conviction.

“It was while reading the news on the Agence de l’Information du Burkina (AIB) website that I saw that I had been convicted in a lawsuit brought against me for defamation. I was never notified of the existence of any proceedings brought against me by Minister Kassoum Coulibaly,” Barry told the MFWA.

Barry denounced an expeditious and arbitrary justice system. He has been in exile in France since September 2023, citing threats to his safety and that of his family. According to Barry, the current situation in Burkina Faso is marked by a deterioration in democratic institutions exacerbating the problem of the repression of divergent opinions.

“It’s unfortunate, because now, to dare to have a contrary opinion has become a crime,” he added.

The MFWA is dismayed by the court’s verdict and calls on the authorities to reverse it. The conviction of journalist Newton Ahmed Barry in absentia, with no information about the proceedings against him, raises questions about respect for the rights of the defense and the right to a fair trial.

Moreover, the defamation charges brought against Barry highlight the challenges faced by journalists in the practice of their profession, particularly when investigating sensitive cases involving political or military figures. The MFWA calls on the authorities of Burkina Faso to preserve fundamental freedoms and strengthen the rule of law in order to guarantee stability and democracy in the country.

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