The Ouaga 1 high court in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, has sentenced Issaka Bagagnan to 12 months in prison for hate speech, with six months of the sentence suspended.
The 35-year-old street vendor was also fined 500,000 CFA francs (about USD 780) and ordered to pay journalist, Newton Ahmed Barry, a symbolic fee for appeasement.
The judgement, which was pronounced on July 22, 2022, was in relation to a viral audio in which Bagagnan was captured issuing death threats to Mr. Barry and calling for his home to be vandalized.
Mr. Bagagnan pleaded guilty to charges of “defamation, public insults, incitement to violence and destruction of private property through social networks,” Mr. Barry told the MFWA.
In June 2022, Bagagnan recorded and circulated an audio in which he called on the public to attack Mr. Barry, the former editor-in-chief of the private investigative newspaper, l’Evènement.
“Burn down his house, completely demolish it, collect all the rubble and clear the land”, Bagagnan is captured saying in the local Moore language, adding that Mr. Barry is a “terrorist who does not deserve to live in Burkina Faso”.
Bagagnan was first taken to court on July 15, 2022, by the country’s Cybercrime Unit (Brigade Centrale de Lutte contre la Cybercriminalité – BCLCC). However, the case was adjourned to July 22, 2022, as the accused did not have a lawyer to defend him.
The convict belongs to a WhatsApp group called ‘Burkina Russia’, which has been campaigning for Burkina Faso to end its cooperation with France and rather sign a new cooperation agreement with Russia as Mali has done. As a fan of Russia, Bagagnan took offense when on May 19, 2022, Mr. Barry questioned the benefits of Mali’s military cooperation with Russia during “Surface de vérité,” a live show of the privately-owned TV station BF1.
The court ruling was hailed by many in the country. The journalist, who feared for his safety and that of his family, said he was happy and satisfied with the court ruling.
“I am really satisfied. Thanks to the Media Foundation for all its support. Many thanks to journalists’ organizations in Burkina Faso and around the world for their solidarity. Thank you,” he remarked in a chat with the MFWA via a messaging app.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the court’s judgment as a step in the right direction, and a measure that can bring a sense of relief and security to the threatened journalist. While we commend the decision, we still call on the authorities of Burkina Faso to take nothing for granted regarding the security of Newton Ahmed Barry.