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Burkina Faso junta suspends BBC, VOA radio broadcasts over coverage of arbitrary killings

Burkina Faso junta suspends BBC, VOA radio broadcasts over coverage of arbitrary killings

Authorities in Burkina Faso on Thursday said the country has suspended the radio broadcasts of BBC Africa and the U.S-funded Voice of America (VOA) for two weeks.

The suspension followed their coverage of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accusing the army of extrajudicial killings.

In the report based on its own investigation, HRW said Burkina Faso’s military summarily executed about 223 villagers, including at least 56 children, in February as part of a campaign against civilians accused of collaborating with jihadist militants.

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HRW said the Burkinabe army has repeatedly committed mass atrocities against civilians in the name of fighting terrorism, and it called on authorities to investigate the massacres.

Peremptory report?

The country’s communication council said HRW’s report contained “peremptory and tendentious” declarations against the army likely to create public disorder, and it would suspend the programmes of the broadcasters over their coverage of the story.

Authorities also said in a statement they had ordered internet service providers to suspend access to the websites and other digital platforms of the BBC, VOA and Human Rights Watch from Burkina Faso.

Fair coverage?

A BBC spokesperson who confirmed the development said “The BBC has received a letter from the Conseil Superieur De La Communication confirming the suspension of our broadcast operations in Burkina Faso for two weeks in direct response to our journalism on a recent report by Human Rights Watch accusing Burkina Faso’s military of civilian killings.

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“The suspension reduces the BBC’s ability to reach audiences with independent and accurate news. We will continue to report on the region in the public interest and without fear or favour.”

In a statement, acting VOA Director John Lippman asked Burkina Faso’s government to reconsider its “troubling” decision.

“VOA stands by its reporting about Burkina Faso and intends to continue to fully and fairly cover events in that country,” he said.

HRW conducted its investigation after a regional prosecutor said in March that about 170 people were executed by unidentified assailants during attacks on the villages of Komsilga, Nodin and Soro.

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“We are deeply disturbed by reports of the killing of large numbers of civilians, including children… in an overall context of fighting between armed groups and Burkinabe forces,” the U.N. human rights office said in a statement, adding that it was also concerned by the temporary suspension of the two media outlets.

Burkina Faso is one of several Sahel nations that have been struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that have spread from neighbouring Mali since 2012, killing thousands and displacing millions.

Frustration over authorities’ failure to protect civilians has contributed to two coups in Mali, two in Burkina Faso and one in Niger since 2020.

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