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Fighting impunity: Burkinabe journalist awarded compensation for wrongful detention

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on 15 June 2016.

Burkinabe journalist Lohé Issa Konaté has been awarded US$70,000 in compensation for the injury he suffered following his conviction on criminal defamation charges and subsequent one-year detention in 2012.

This decision by the African Court on June 3, 2016, caps a historic legal saga that saw the African Human Rights Court deliver a landmark ruling in 2014 that Issah Konaté's human rights had been abused by the government of Burkina Faso by convicting him to a one-year jail term and crippling fines. The African Court unanimously found that Burkina Faso violated Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter), Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 66(2) of the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States. Crucially, it ordered Burkina Faso to scrap its criminal libel laws. It further asked the journalist to furnish the court with the financial damages he had suffered as a result of his wrongful detention.

U.K-based Media Legal Defense Initiative which supported Konaté in the initial suit in 2014, once again represented the journalist before the African Court. Konaté, the founder and editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper L'Ouragan (The Hurricane), was arrested and jailed for publishing two articles that linked a prosecutor to corruption and abuse of power. In addition to the prison sentence, he was ordered to pay the equivalent of US$12,000 in fines, costs and damages.

As a result of his 12-month imprisonment and the shutdown of L'Ouragan, Konaté lost his entire income and sole means of support for his family. He also lost his capital and all the equipment used for the business. The damages awarded in the judgment delivered on June 3 2016 are in respect of these losses, as well as the considerable distress the journalist suffered as a result of his year-long imprisonment in an unsanitary and overcrowded prison. The compensation will guarantee the survival of L'Ouragan as an important source of independent journalism in Burkina Faso.

The MFWA welcomes the decision to award 70,000 dollars in compensation to Lohé Issah Konaté as another giant step in efforts at ending impunity for press freedom violations on the continent.

"This ruling is a positive signal to journalists and human rights activists that there is a reliable legal framework to which they can turn for redress if their rights are violated by any individual or institution, however powerful," said Dora B. Mawutor, Programme Manager for Freedom of Expression Advocacy at the MFWA.

It is expected that African Union leaders will liaise with the government of Burkina Faso to ensure that it pays the compensation ordered by the Court. This is particularly important in view of The Gambia's repeated refusal to comply with three judgments delivered by the ECOWAS Court of Justice in cases relating to the violation of freedom of expression rights. These cases are:

• The enforced disappearance of journalist Ebrima Manneh

• The arbitrary arrest and torture of newspaper editor, Musa Saidykhan

• The murder of prominent journalist and human rights activist, Deyda Hydara

The Gambian government has blatantly refused to comply with any of the three binding judgments, in spite of the fact that Article 77 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty prescribes sanctions for member states who default on their obligations such as failing to comply with decisions of organs of the group. The ECOWAS has not imposed any sanctions against The Gambia.

In view of The Gambia example, African Union leaders should apply all diplomatic and political pressure to ensure that Burkina Faso pays Konate the compensation ordered by the court. The MFWA trusts that the Burkinabe government will show good faith and comply with the ruling.

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