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Activist Naïm Touré sentenced to prison over Facebook post in Burkina Faso

Screenshot from a video of Naim Traoré explaining his case via Droit libre TV on YouTube

Activist Naïm Touré appeared before the criminal chamber of the High Court of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on 27 June 2018, where he was convicted on multiple charges related to a Facebook post, including “demoralizing the defense and security forces.” Here is an excerpt of what Touré wrote on Facebook in June 2018:

À toutes les forces de défense: restez là assis seulement bras croisés. Vous risquez fort de tous trépasser ici dans l'exercice de vos fonctions sans que ces politicards que vous protégez nuit et jour ne lèvent le petit doigt pour vous assister en cas de problème comme c'est le cas de votre collègue feu Mdl Yassia (Paix à son Âme). Donc je dis et le répète que le politicien de la majorité actuelle MPP n'a rien rien à foutre de vos putaines de vie.

To all the the defense forces, please make sure you stay put with your arms crossed for a while. otherwise you are likely to be killed while on duty and none of these politicians who you protect day in and and day out will lift a finger to assist you in case of a problem as was the case of your colleague Mdl Yassia, killed in combat (may he rest in peace). So I say it all over again: the politician of the current majority party MPP do not give a damn about your freaking life.

At the end of the proceedings, the public prosecutor called for one year of imprisonment. On 3 July 2018, the final verdict was made public: Touré was sentenced to 2 months in prison without appeal  for “provocation without any ensuing consequences”.

He was arrested and remanded in custody by the national police force on 14 June 2018 for expressing outrage on his Facebook page concerning the fate of a policeman who was injured during an anti-terrorist operation and who, one month later, was still waiting for a medical evacuation.

The Ouagadougou-based website netafrique.net summarized the charges against him as described by one of his attorneys, Prosper Farama:

Il lui est reproché trois infractions : la première, il aurait participé à une opération de démoralisation des forces de défenses et de sécurité (FDS) par une publication sur sa page Facebook. La 2e infraction, c’est d’avoir proposé aux FDS de former un complot contre la sûreté de l’Etat. La 3e ; c’est incitation de troubles à l’ordre public

He is accused of three offenses: first, participating in an attempt to demoralize the defense and security forces (FDS) via a post on his Facebook page; second, making a proposition to the FDS to conspire against State security; third, inciting disorderly conduct.

At the trial, which involved about ten attorneys, Touré pleaded not guilty, according to Armand Kinda on infowakat.net:

Pour l’accusé, son poste en date du 13 juin sur le réseau social facebook n’avait pas pour but de « participer à une entreprise de démoralisation des Forces armées nationales » comme l’estime le procureur du Faso. Selon les explications données par Naïm Touré à la barre, « ce poste a été fait pour informer l’opinion et pour dénoncer l’attitude des autorités (actuelles) qui ont une lenteur administrative », en ce qui concerne le retard constaté dans la procédure d’évacuation du pandore blessé pendant l’opération de démantèlement du réseau de terroristes le 22 mai 2018 à Rayongo où le gendarme François De Salle Ouédraogo y a perdu la vie.

Touré affirmed that the post dated 13 June on Facebook wasn’t meant to represent any participation in an attempt to demoralize the national Armed Forces” as judged by the public prosecutor. Touré explained before the court that “this post was created to inform the public and to denounce the attitude of the (current) authorities, and their slow-reacting administration,” regarding the delayed evacuation procedure of a cop who was injured during an operation to dismantle a terrorist network on 22 May 2018 in Rayongo, where the police officer François De Salle Ouédraogo lost his life.

Human rights activists and many of Touré's contacts on social media have shown support regarding his legal situation. Burkina resident Rodolphe Somd likened what Touré wrote on Facebook to an exchange between colleagues or friends about the situation in their country:

Des zélés en quête de postes de nomination ont induit nos autorités en erreur. Bien au contraire de mettre Naïm en prison, on aurait dû le remercier du fait qu'il desarme consciemment ou inconsciemment toutes entreprises des fds [Forces de sécurité] allant dans ce sens. Bien entendu son poste anticipe voire dejoue tout projet allant dans ce sens en ce qu il éveille un peu plus la vigilence des autorités sur un probable coup de force. Alors libérez ce morpion qui ne constitue aucune menace contre la sureté de l'Etat… Or facebook est un autre cabaret où ce qui s y dit ne devrait pas avoir plus d importance…

A few zealots seeking political appointments have led our authorities astray. Rather than putting Naïm in prison, they should thank him for neutralizing any plotting along those lines on the part of the fds [Security forces], whether he did so consciously or not. It’s clear that his post preempts and may frustrate any such plans given that it has caused the authorities to become somewhat more vigilant regarding a probable coup de force. So just free this little pest who represents no national security threat… Facebook is another world where what is said should not be taken seriously…

For local media examining the content of Touré's post (which was shared 525 times on Facebook), it was difficult to comprehend the accusations made against him.

The Burkina news site Kelgueka says that such accusations ought to be ridiculed since it would take much more than that for the military to rebel:

De telles accusations pour des militaires déjà en rébellion, c’est l’hilarité. Quand aux causes des révoltes ou rébellions dans les armées, au Burkina comme ailleurs, elles sont pareilles pour la majorité des cas. En 2011 , les mutineries avaient été suscitées par l’humaine condition. Blaise Compaore recevant la troupe s’était rendu à l’évidence de la misère de celle-ci. Chez Ouattara en côte d’Ivoire, les révoltes ont eu pour cause essentielle les impayés de soldes.

Récemment au Sahel, les bruits des mécontentements étaient liés à la non tenue d’engagements pris par l’autorité en lien avec les conditions de vie et de travail dans cette mission périlleuse de la lutte anti terroriste. Jusqu’à preuve du contraire, outre la gestion de l’armée et très rarement les manipulations occidentales pour des visées politiques, l’armée ne s’est jamais mise en situation de révolte par le fait de l’opinion publique.

To make such accusations when the soldiers have been on the brink of rebellion for so long is just ridiculous. The reasons for military revolts and rebellions are in most cases the same in Burkina Faso as everywhere else. In 2011, the mutinies were provoked by the human condition. Blaise Compaore received the troops and was forced to acknowledge the miserable state they were in. In Côte d’Ivoire, the main reason for the revolts was unpaid salaries.

Recently, in the Sahel, the rumors of discontent were linked to the non-respect of commitments made by the authorities relative to the living and working conditions in the perilous struggle against terrorism. Until it can be proven otherwise, apart from the management of the army and, very rarely, Western manipulation to political ends, the army never revolts because of public opinion.

Touré was arrested several days before the second Summit of the African League of Bloggers and Cyber-activists for Democracy, hosted by the organization Africtivistes, in the capital of Burkina Faso.
In his opening remarks, Cheikh Fall, the coordinator of Africtivistes, explained that Ouagadougou was chosen to host the second summit three years after the first edition because of “the role that activists have played there in various socio-political crises, such as their resistance to the military coup in September 2015.”
He then discussed the difficult situation that activists find themselves in on the African continent, citing pressure, exile, and prison as part of the difficulties that African activists face.
He made sure to highlight the case of Touré, directly addressing the President:

Cette tribune est pour nous, Monsieur le Président, une occasion pour vous demander au nom de tous les Africtivistes pour une clémence pour toutes ces personnes notamment Naim Touré du Burkina Faso…

For us, Mr. President, this platform is a chance to ask you, in the name of all Africtivistes, for clemency toward all the activists currently under arrest, in particular Naïm Touré from Burkina Faso…

Luandino Vieira, a writer based in Sénégal,  argued that arresting a Burkinabe icon of cyber-activism while activists from all over the continent are meeting in Ouagadougou simply creates disorder:

Alors qu’ on va réunir la crème des cyberactivistes africains, avec l’onction du gouvernement burkinabé, ça fait désordre d’arrêter une des icônes du cyberactivisme burkinabè. Naïm, n’a jamais été pris à défaut sur les informations qu’il a livrées. Que lui reproche-t-on donc de dire les choses avec un certain ton. On veut le domestiquer. Or, du peu que je sais de lui, c’est peine perdue. Les autorités burkinabè devraient plutôt le considérer comme un allié et en tant que lanceur d’alerte le protéger au lieu de chercher à le museler. Libérer Naïm Touré !

While the most prominent African cyber-activists will be meeting soon, the arrest of an icon of Burkinabe cyber-activism shows the duplicity of the Burkinabe government and will only create disorder. Naïm was never proven wrong about the information he shared. Why then should he be criticized for adopting a certain tone? They want to bring him to heel. But from what little I know about him, it’s a lost cause. Rather than arresting an icon of Burkinabe cyber-activism, the authorities should consider him as an ally and as a whistleblower – protect him instead of trying to muzzle him. Free Naïm Touré!

Touré's case has inspired a great deal of support from African civil society. Safiatou F. Lopez Zongo, the president of the National Cooperation Framework of Civil Society Organizations (Cadre de concertation national des organisations de la société civile in French), recalls that freedom of expression is a constitutional right:

Je viens d’apprendre l’arrestation du cyber-activiste NAÏM TOURÉ et sincèrement, je suis dépassée, le pouvoir creuse sa tombe chaque jour un peu plus et c’est désolant. La liberté d’expression est un droit Constitutionnel dans notre pays, chers Mogho puissants du moment, libérez le petit NAÏM TOURÉ. C’est tout simplement un abus de pouvoir et tôt ou tard le pouvoir sera entre les mains d’autres personnes et ça risque d’être compliqué pour certains d’entre vous. …

Alors, si consciencieusement vous savez que le peuple est déçu, il n’y a qu’une seule chose à faire, changez votre fusil d’épaule, au lieu de la chasse aux sorcières, travailler à gagner du crédit auprès du peuple qui vous a fait confiance…

I just learned of the arrest of the cyber-activist Naïm Touré and honestly, it is beyond me, the powers that be continue to dig their own graves and it’s devastating. Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in our country. Dear, powerful monarchs of the moment: free little Naïm Touré. This is a plain abuse of power. Sooner or later that power will be in the hands of others, and things could get complicated for some of you…

So, if upon reflection you realize that the people are disappointed, there is only one course of action to take: change tack. Instead of conducting a witch-hunt, work to earn the respect of the people who have put their trust in you….

Burkinabe Facebook user Paz Hien remembers what Naïm Touré once confided to him:

Un jour, Naïm Touré m'a dit ceci : “les gens me guettent. Certains mêmes me l'ont dit ouvertement qu'à la première occasion ils vont me mâter. Mais ça ne m'inquiète pas. Plus ils me menacent, plus je suis engagé. Et s'il arrivait que je meurs un jour, svp ne trahissez pas la lutte. Souvent certains pensent que je suis contre eux, et finalement ils se rendent compte que c'est pour eux que je me suis battu car moi je n'y gagne rien directement. Nous avons un devoir d'honnêteté mon frère”.

Ces propos sonnent en moi depuis hier!
LIBEREZ NAÏM TOURE.

One day, Naïm Touré said to me, “I am being watched. Some people have even told me outright that at the first chance they get, they’ll take me down. But that doesn’t worry me. The more they threaten me, the more committed I become. And if someday I die, please don’t give up the struggle. Often, people think that I am against them, but since I don’t stand to gain anything directly, they end up realizing that it’s for them I’m fighting. We have to be honest, brother. These words resound in me since yesterday! FREE NAÏM TOURE.

This is the third time that Naïm Touré has appeared in court for posts on his Facebook page.

The first case against him was filed in 2016, for a separate attempt to attract the attention of authorities to the case of an injured military serviceman, the Chief Warrant Officer Moussa Nébié, alias Rambo. He was prosecuted again in 2017 for “public injury and defamation” of the then-special counsel to the National Assembly president, Elisée Antoine Zong Naba.

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