Threatened, kidnapped, forcibly recruited: in Burkina Faso, dissident voices silenced

Missing since December 1, Daouda Diallo, 2022 winner of the Martin-Ennals prize for human rights defenders, reappeared three days later in a photo on social networks, dressed in fatigues, helmet, Kalashnikov in hand

Threatened, kidnapped, forcibly recruited: in Burkina Faso, dissident voices silenced

Missing since December 1, Daouda Diallo, 2022 winner of the Martin-Ennals prize for human rights defenders, reappeared three days later in a photo on social networks, dressed in fatigues, helmet, Kalashnikov in hand. The photo of this activist, known for his denunciations of abuses committed in the fight against terrorism, shocked NGOs, diplomats and part of public opinion in Burkina Faso. The intention of this publication seems obvious: to intimidate any voice critical of the security policy carried out by the junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré.

Friday, December 1, Daouda Diallo was asked by an agent from the passport service in Ouagadougou to come and meet the commissioner. At the end of the meeting, in front of the administrative building, he had been "arrested by individuals in civilian clothes and with imposing physique (...) and taken to an unknown destination", worried his NGO, the Collectif contre l impunity and stigmatization of communities (CISC) in a press release published the same day.

Daouda Diallo was one of around ten Burkinabés to appear on a list of people to be forcibly recruited, which circulated at the beginning of November. On it is notably the name of the former head of diplomacy Ablassé Ouédraogo, 70 years old, two journalists and two members of the Le Balai Citoyen association, according to their lawyers, who took the matter to court. All of them have in common that they have expressed or wanted to express a critical opinion on the policy pursued by the putschists in power.

On Wednesday, December 6, the Ouagadougou administrative court ruled that these forced recruitments, carried out as part of the “general mobilization” decreed in April “with a view to defending the integrity of the territory,” were illegal.

Politicians, whistleblowers, imams, businessmen

Despite this legal decision, Daouda Diallo was not released and the other Burkinabés requisitioned like him, living in hiding or having fled the country for fear of being kidnapped and sent by force to fight jihadist groups, are keeping themselves safe. to declare victory. “We won our case but we told them to remain discreet,” says a member of Balai Citoyen. We are suspicious because we are faced with a regime that respects nothing, not even court decisions. »

On November 6, the same court had already ruled “manifestly illegal and constituting a serious attack on the freedom to come and go” the kidnapping of Kambou Sansan Anselme by agents of the ANR [National Intelligence Agency].” a month and a half earlier. The judge ordered his immediate release. In vain. The businessman has still not reappeared.

According to Le Monde sources, more than a dozen Burkinabés – politicians, whistleblowers, imams, businessmen – have disappeared since the end of March after being kidnapped by men in civilian clothes, sometimes hooded, claiming to be the most often defense and security forces. Five of them were sent to the front, like Daouda Diallo.

The latter confided in March that he felt threatened after having denounced the "extrajudicial executions" for which the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP), the army's auxiliaries, were responsible in the war against the jihadists. “These requisitions are used by the regime to target dissenting voices and silence them. It’s a way for the government to tell everyone: this is what will happen to you if you criticize the regime,” denounces Ousmane Diallo, researcher at Amnesty International.

Fear of testifying

Captain Traoré assumes his repressive policy towards those who dare to criticize or take too close an interest in the action of the armed forces. At the end of March, during a trip to Kaya, in the north-central part of the country, he announced that he had "immediately hired" as VDP Boukaré Ouédraogo, the president of an association which had questioned him on his security policy. “This one is an example. The others will follow in the days to come. All those who think that they are hidden inside and outside, who continue to inform, to communicate for the enemy, will pay,” the president of the transition had threatened.

Taken by force, Mr. Ouédraogo, visually impaired, reappeared a few days later on social networks. Black glasses on his nose, dressed in fatigues and a Kalashnikov in hand, he apologized on camera "to the President of Faso", before "thanking him for the opportunity offered". He was released in May and has not been critical since.

The fear of testifying has since spread to all the dissenting voices in Burkina Faso. “We are in a tyrannical regime. I was threatened online, by telephone, calling me an enemy of the nation, a pro-terrorist, a stateless person,” says Ladji Bama. The name of this journalist who publishes articles on the security situation was part of the list of “requisitioned” at the beginning of November. Abroad at that time, he has not dared to return to his country since. “What’s the point of throwing yourself into the den of the wolf? “, he specifies.

At the end of October, Ladji Bama denounced on his Facebook page the videos showing supporters of the junta sharpening machetes and calling to kill the participants of a meeting that civil society actors were planning to organize. “The government has not issued a single statement to condemn this and no one has been arrested. How can a serious power let its supporters threaten citizens with death with machetes? », indignant Ladji Bama.

When contacted, both the government and the army's communications department did not wish to respond to Le Monde's requests. “We suspended your newspaper so I have nothing to tell you,” objects an official. Following the publication of an article about the battle of Djibo on December 1, Le Monde was in fact banned in Burkina Faso, like RFI, France 24, LCI and Jeune Afrique before it.