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President's brother launches libel lawsuit against bi-monthly after being implicated in Zongo murder

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced its support for the Ouagadougou-based bi-monthly "L'Evénement", which is accused of libelling the president's brother, François Compaoré, by linking him to the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo. The trial is due to start on 8 January 2007 in Ouagadougou.

"After last year's outrageous decision to dismiss all charges and close the Zongo case, this year begins with a high-profile libel suit against a newspaper," the press freedom organisation said. "Referring too specifically to François Compaoré's role in the Zongo murder has clearly become a taboo under President Blaise Compaoré."

Reporters Without Borders added: "In effect, 'L'Evénement' is under attack simply for reporting the local news, covering Reporters Without Borders' role in the investigation, and challenging the prevailing culture of impunity."

The lawsuit stems from several articles in the 25 October 2006 issue of the paper concerning a news conference on the Zongo case which Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard had given in Ouagadougou five days earlier. The president's brother in particular felt he had been libelled by a front-page headline accompanying his photo which read: "So it's him, François Compaoré. Until now we had not been able to say his name. Reporters Without Borders has finally done so."

At the news conference five days earlier, Reporters Without Borders had called on the Burkina Faso state prosecutor to reopen the Zongo murder case on the grounds of new evidence produced by Ménard linking François Compaoré and businessman Oumarou Kanazoé to the case.

The inside pages of "L'Evénement" contained three reports, an editorial and a press release about the case. The first report, headlined, "The lies of witnesses François Compaoré and Oumarou Kanazoé", was about the documents which Reporters Without Borders had handed over to the state prosecutor.

The second report, headlined, "No one more blind that the one who refuses to see", criticised the refusal of the judicial authorities to reopen the case, despite the new evidence produced by Reporters Without Borders. The third one, headlined, "So it's him, François Compaoré?", was about the murkier aspects of his role in the case. The editorial criticised the failure of the attorney general and state prosecutor to do their job. The press release was the one issued by Reporters Without Borders condemning the judicial authorities' refusal to reopen the case on the grounds of the new evidence.

On 19 July 2006, investigating judge Wenceslas Ilboudo dismissed all charges against the leading suspect, former presidential guard chief Marcel Kafando. According to Article 189 of the code of criminal procedure, the case could thereafter only be reopened if there were "new accusations" liable to "strengthen the accusations that have already proved too weak" or to "contribute new developments useful in establishing the truth."

Zongo was an investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of the weekly "L'Indépendant". His charred body and those of three companions were found on 13 December 1998.

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