In Burkina Faso, dissenting voices sent to the front or to prison

They knew they were in the sights of the military in Burkina Faso and tried to remain discreet

In Burkina Faso, dissenting voices sent to the front or to prison

They knew they were in the sights of the military in Burkina Faso and tried to remain discreet. Their precautions were not enough. Rasmane Zinaba and Bassirou Badjo, two members of Citizen Balai, a movement renowned for its freedom of tone towards the powers in place, are now prisoners of a junta which is increasing the arrests of dissenting voices, whether they come from the political class or civil society.

The first, responsible for organizing within the movement, was kidnapped on Tuesday February 20 from his home in Ouagadougou by men “in civilian clothes and armed”, then taken “to a previously unknown location”, indicated in a communicated the Balai Citoyen, which in 2014 was one of the spearheads of the popular insurrection that put an end to Blaise Compaoré's thirty years in power.

The next afternoon, Bassirou Badjo, a simple activist of the movement, employed at the General Directorate of National Solidarity and Humanitarian Assistance, was in turn “kidnapped from his workplace” by “individuals presenting themselves as state security agents [the secret services],” clarified Le Balai Citoyen in a second press release.

Both appeared on a list of people to be forcibly recruited drawn up by the junta at the beginning of November 2023. On December 6, the administrative court of Ouagadougou, which they had seized to rule on the legality of their requisition by the regime, had given them won his case, considering that this, made possible by the decree on general mobilization taken seven months earlier by the transitional president, Ibrahim Traoré, was illegal. The judge had ordered that their forced recruitment into the ranks of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP), auxiliaries supposed to support the army in its fight against the jihadist groups which have plagued the country since 2015, be suspended.

A “tyrannical” regime

Two months later, the two activists were finally “kidnapped by a tyrannical regime which does not even respect the decisions of the courts and which forcibly sends protesting voices to the front in an attempt to muzzle them,” notes a member of Balai Citoyen, preferring to remain anonymous for his safety.

This fate has already been reserved for Ablassé Ouedraogo and Daouda Diallo, who were on the same list of people to be forcibly recruited. The 70-year-old former foreign minister and 2022 winner of the Martin Ennals Prize for human rights defenders had been missing since their kidnapping in December. On Sunday, these two personalities, rare voices who still dare to publicly criticize the security and repressive management of Captain Traoré, were presented in fatigues, Kalashnikov in hand, in a video broadcast on social networks.

“It’s a way for the junta to humiliate them and dissuade other dissenting voices from criticizing it,” underlines the executive of an international human rights organization, also requesting anonymity for fear of a regime who does not hesitate to send to the front or to state security jails all those he considers to be his opponents.

At least twenty personalities – civil society activists, human rights defenders, politicians, businessmen and soldiers – are now missing, according to Le Monde sources. However, their number could be much higher. “The scale is such that we can no longer count them. Only the disappearances of the best-known personalities are reported in the media,” continues the previously cited source.

One of the latest to have been widely reported is that of lawyer Guy Hervé Kam, kidnapped by men in civilian clothes on the night of January 24 to 25 in Ouagadougou. Was the co-founder of Balai Citoyen, who did not hesitate to denounce the muzzling of all opposition by the junta, also sent to the front? Or is he a prisoner in one of the secret service cells? His relatives have so far had no news.

Three trade unionists arrested

Four days after his kidnapping, one of the trade union organizations he defended also suffered the wrath of the regime. On January 29, men in civilian clothes and others in police uniforms attempted to arrest Moussa Diallo, the secretary general of the General Confederation of Labor of Burkina Faso (CGT-B), the union, whose force mobilization remains feared by the executive. The kidnapping was finally cut short thanks to the intervention of trade unionists gathered around their leader's home, but three of them were arrested and have remained missing ever since.

The day before, Moussa Diallo had denounced, in the television program “Dimanche politique”, on Omega Médias, the “kidnappings of citizens from the streets and from their homes without following the procedure” and “extrajudicial, summary executions , of citizens suspected of colluding with terrorists or of being terrorists.”

Coincidentally, Burkina was heard on Wednesday in Geneva by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances. He responded to a request for additional information made by the body before the junta came to power. After trying to convince the committee that Burkina remained committed to the protection of human rights and its defenders, the delegation led by Edasso Rodrigue Bayala, the minister of justice and human rights, admitted that as "in all countries ", the Burkinabé intelligence services had sometimes engaged in acts "which may fall under the scope of criminal classification". “There are cases, we cannot cite them,” the minister simply admitted.

Contacted, the transitional government did not respond to requests from Le Monde. The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances is expected to make public its final observations in early March on Burkina's compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, ratified by the country in 2009.