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Burkina Faso suspends France 24 for interview with jihadi

Burkina Faso’s military junta has suspended French broadcaster, France 24, for interviewing a top jihadi rebel, a government spokesman announced Monday.

The broadcasting of France 24’s programs will be blocked throughout Burkina Faso because of an interview the outlet did with the leader of an al-Qaida aligned group, Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said in a statement.

“It is with regret that the government discovered two weeks ago an interview with the ‘chief of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’ on France 24, part of the France Medias Monde group. Without contesting the freedom of the channel’s editorial choices, the government nevertheless questions the ethics that govern the professional practice of journalism on France 24,” he said.

By describing the views of the head of the rebel group, France 24 had acted as a communication agency for the jihadis and gave them space to legitimize their actions, he said.

On March 6, France 24 discussed on air, the exclusive interview it had conducted with Algerian Abu Obeida Youssef al-Aanabi, the leader of AQIM, an umbrella group of Islamic extremist groups operating in the Sahel region, the vast, semi-arid expanse below the Sahara Desert. However, France 24 decided not to broadcast it, Wassim Nasr, the journalist who did the interview told The Associated Press.

In the interview, which took one year to arrange, the only mention of Burkina Faso was to challenge the al-Qaida chief about taking responsibility for an attack in the town of Solhan in the Sahel region that killed at least 160 people in June 2021, said Nasr.

“We try to talk to all parties. This is what journalism is about,” he said.

Jihadi fighters linked al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have been waging a violent insurgency in Burkina Faso for seven years, that’s killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people. The violence has destabilized and divided the once peaceful West African country leading to two coups last year. Since the second coup when Capt. Ibrahim Traore seized power in September, civic freedoms have shrunk, say rights groups and residents.

The decision by Burkina Faso’s junta not to allow the broadcasts of France 24 comes less than four months after the government suspended French broadcaster Radio France Internationale for having relayed an “intimidation message” attributed to a “terrorist,” according to a statement from the junta.

Earlier this month, Mathieu Pellerin, the Sahel consultant for the International Crisis Group, was arrested and detained for two days by authorities and questioned about his work, said Murithi Mutiga, the group’s Africa program director. It was the first time one of the group’s specialists had been detained in Burkina Faso in a decade of working there, he said.

In December the government expelled the top U.N. official in the country and weeks later ordered France to recall its ambassador.

“The suspension of France 24 shows how far authorities in Burkina Faso can go in clearly violating freedom of information and the right of the country’s people to access news freely,” said Sadibou Marong, head of the sub-Saharan Africa office for Reporters Without Borders.

“The security crisis in Burkina Faso should not be used as an excuse to prevent journalists from covering the crisis in a responsible and independent manner,” he said. “We call on the authorities to reconsider their decision in the name of the public’s right to pluralistic reporting.”

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