Lawmakers in Burkina Faso on Friday, June 21 adopted a controversial new law providing for jail terms of up to 10 years for divulging details of military operations.
The amendment bans the “publication of images of attacks against defense and security forces and the victims of terrorist crimes,” as well as “attacks on the morale of troops engaged in the fight against terrorism,” lawmaker Bernard Some said.
Justice Minister Rene Bagoro said the new law also aimed to prevent the spread of information about “operations and strategic points of the defence and security forces.”
Some said the the measure was also aimed at preventing “terrorist propaganda.”
It was passed by 103 out of the 127 deputies present.
The measure was criticized by opposition lawmakers as well as media and rights groups.
The general secretary of the Burkina Journalists’ Association Guezouma Sanogo, denounced it as a bid to “regiment information about terrorist acts.”
“A user of social media, a journalist or a defender of human rights can spend up to 10 years in prison solely because of spreading information linked to military operations,” said Yves Boukari Traore, the executive director of Amnesty International Burkina Faso.
A joint statement by Amnesty and two local rights and bloggers’ groups called the measure “liberticide.”
One of the poorest countries in the world, former French colony Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the sprawling, impoverished Sahel, on the southern rim of the Sahara desert.
The country has been battling an escalating wave of attacks attributed to a number of groups over the last three years, beginning in the North region near the border with Mali. Attacks have spread to the East region, near the border with Togo, Benin and Niger, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
Most attacks are attributed to the jihadist group Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Islamic State-affiliated groups.
Since May, Islamic State has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. In a June 15 ISIS propaganda video, ISWAP militants purportedly in Burkina Faso were shown reaffirming their pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
Both Ansar ul Islam and Islamic State are active in Burkina Faso’s Sahel Region, according to a recent mapping project by the European Council on Foreign Relations.
According to a recent Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project analysis, violence by armed groups in Burkina Faso has spiked, with 499 fatalities reported from 124 direct civilian targeting events between November 1 and March 23, representing a 7,000% year-on-year rise.
With reporting from AFP