Burkina Faso junta orders France 24 off air after Al-Qaeda interview
The junta in Burkina Faso on Monday suspended all broadcasts by the France 24 news channel in the west African country after it interviewed the head of Al-Qaeda North Africa.
Burkina Faso is battling a jihadist insurgency that spilled over from neighbouring Mali in 2015.
“By opening its channel to the head of AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), France 24 not only acts as a communications agency for these terrorists but also offers … legitimacy to terrorist actions and hate speech,” the junta spokesman said, referring to a March 6 interview with AQIM head Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Annabi.
“Therefore the government has decided… to suspend sine die the diffusion of France 24 programmes on all national territory,” spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said.
The France 24 broadcast was cut around 0900 GMT on Monday, AFP journalists said.
On March 6, France 24 broadcast written replies given by al-Annabi to 17 questions posed by the news channel’s specialist on jihadist questions, Wassim Nasr.
“The government is disheartened to see that the head of a terrorist organisation like AQIM and recognised as such by the entire international community can take advantage of the editorial generosity of France 24 to talk at length on the channel’s airwaves,” the junta’s statement said.
France 24 hit back branding the Burkinabe government statement “outrageous and defamatory”.
“The management of France 24 condemns this decision and disputes the baseless accusations calling into question the channel’s professionalism,” the news broadcaster said.
The statement stressed that the AQIM chief’s interview had not been directly broadcast but used as an account to confirm that the group had detained a French hostage who was released in Niger last week.
“The security crisis the country (Burkina Faso) is going through must not be a pretext for muzzling the media,” France 24 said.
– Escalating attacks –
In December, the Burkina junta suspended Radio France Internationale (RFI), which belongs to the same France Medias Monde group as France 24, accusing the radio station of emitting a “message of intimidation” attributed to a “terrorist chief”.
Both RFI and France 24, which cover African affairs closely and are popular in francophone nations, have been suspended in neighbouring Mali, which is also run by a military junta fighting jihadist forces.
The military government in Ouagadougou said it would continue to “defend the vital interests of our people against anyone who acts as a loudspeaker for terrorist acts and the divisive hate speech of these armed groups”.
In March, the ruling junta in Mali announced the suspension of the broadcasting authorisation granted to RFI and France 24, after they published stories implicating the national army in abuses against civilians.
One of the world’s poorest nations, Burkina Faso witnessed two military coups in 2022, led by officers angered at the failure to tackle the threat from jihadist groups.
More than 10,000 civilians, troops and police have been killed, according to one NGO estimate, and at least two million people have been displaced.
With jihadists effectively controlling about 40 percent of the country, according to official figures, junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore vowed to recover lost territory after taking power in September.
But jihadist attacks have escalated since the start of the year, with dozens of soldiers and civilians killed every week.
Former colonial power France has in the past year withdrawn troops from Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic.
The pullout from Mali and Burkina Faso, where French soldiers were supporting the Sahel nations in the long-running insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local hostility.