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Burkina Faso suspends French broadcaster RFI

Burkina Faso on Saturday ordered the immediate suspension of Radio France Internationale (RFI) broadcasts, accusing it of putting out a “message of intimidation” attributed to a “terrorist chief”.

It is the second West African country under military rule, after Mali, to take the French broadcaster off the airwaves this year.

RFI had contributed to “a desperate manoeuvre of terrorist groups” to dissuade thousands of Burkinabe citizens mobilised for the defence of the country, said Burkinabe government spokesman Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo.

At the beginning of the week, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) threatened in a video to attack villages defended by the pro-government VDP militia in Burkina Faso.

The VDP are civilian volunteers given two weeks’ military training to work alongside the army carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.

The government had already, on November 3, protested the contents of the French broadcaster’s reports, said the government statement.

“Considering everything that has happened before, the government has decided on the immediate suspension, until further notice, of the broadcasting of Radio France Internationale’s programmes.”

The government also accused RFI of having relayed “misleading information” suggesting the leader of the Burkinabe junta, Captain Ibrahim Traore, had said there had been an attempted coup against him.

– ‘Unfounded accusations’ –

RFI’s management, in a statement late Saturday, said it “deeply deplores this decision and protests against the totally unfounded accusations calling into question the professionalism of its stations”.

The decision to cut off RFI’s broadcasting service “was taken without prior notice and without implementing the procedures… drawn up by Burkina Faso’s Higher Council for Communication,” it added.

The France Medias Monde group, to which RFI belongs, “will explore all avenues to restore RFI’s broadcasting, and reiterates its unwavering commitment to the freedom to inform and the professional work of its journalists,” the statement added.

According to RFI, the radio station is heard every week in Burkina Faso by more than 40 percent of the population and “more than 70 percent of opinion leaders”.

An AFP journalist in Ouagadougou confirmed that the French radio station could no longer be heard by late afternoon.

The Burkinabe government nevertheless said it wanted to “reaffirm to national and international opinion its attachment to freedom of the press and opinion” and “the public’s right to information”, while exhorting media to “respect the rules and principles laid down in this area in our country”.

Burkina Faso has experienced two military coups this year, driven by army officers angered at the failure to tackle the threat from jihadist groups.

It becomes the second west African nation to ban RFI this year after Mali, another country under the rule of a military junta and fighting jihadist forces.

In March, the ruling junta in Mali announced the suspension of the broadcasting authorisation granted to RFI and France 24, after they published accounts implicating Mali’s army in abuses against civilians.