War journalists grieve execution of Spanish reporters in Burkina Faso


David Beriain. Photo from TEDx UniversidaddeNavarra through Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Spanish war journalism is in mourning over the killing of war reporters David Beriain and Roberto Fraile in Burkina Faso on April 27. The two were recently honored by friends and by the National Press Club, which granted them the International Journalism Award for their work as international correspondents. 

Beriain covered important armed conflicts in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He also published numerous reports on corruption in Argentina, drug trafficking, and warfare in Colombia. Fraile was recognized for his work as a photographer in Aleppo, Syria, where he was seriously injured while recording the insurgent troops. Fraile also covered different armed conflicts in Libya, Iraq, and Kosovo. They were reporting on poaching in Burkina Faso when they were killed.

The reporters were captured in the east of the country, a zone where tensions and insecurity due to jihadist groups have grown since Roch Marc Christian Kaboré took power through a coup d'etat in 2015. The attacks are carried out not only against the civilian population but also among terrorist groups. Among the groups are Al Qaeda, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and Ansarul Islam.

Added to this problem is the general poverty of the population, of which 80% make a living in agriculture and are often the target of attacks of these criminal groups.

This wave of violence threatens journalists from the African country, who are limited when traveling and completing their journalistic work. Similarly, many suffer detention and accusations of defamation when reporting about the situation in Burkina Faso.

The assassination of the two Spanish journalists has been attributed to the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), according to Spanish Minister of Defense Margarita Robles. Beriain and Fraile were with members of the European Union, the NGO Chengeta Wildlife, and a joint patrol formed by troops from Burkina Faso. According to an investigation by Spanish newspaper El Pais, the group was cornered after encountering an Al Qaeda encampment, and the intruders were gunned down.

The first to be shot was Fraile, and both Beriain and Rory Young, an Irish ecologist and founder of Chengeta Wildlife, refused to abandon their friend. According to the investigation, Beriain could have been saved from the attack. However, he refused the idea of abandoning Fraile, who was gravely injured.

On Friday, April 30 the bodies of the deceased journalists arrived in Madrid, Spain on a military plane from Burkina Faso.

Various parts of Africa present serious risks for reporters, with more than one hundred journalist killings on the African continent in the last decade. As Reporters Without Borders notes, despite the end of totalitarian regimes in recent years, decriminalizing journalism and increasing the security of journalists is still a work in progress.

Burkina Faso ranks number 37 on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index made by Reporters Without Borders, with the killings of Beriain and Fraile being the only deaths this year in the African country. In contrast, a state such as Syria ranks in position 173, Palestine in 132, and Libya in 165.

Globally, eleven journalists and four citizen collaborators have been killed this year, and another 324 journalists, 102 citizen journalists, and 13 collaborators have been jailed.

Fear, torture, kidnapping, and death are some of the consequences of this profession, as reporter, filmmaker, and writer Hernán Zin reflects on in his 2018 documentary “Morir para Contar” (Dying to Tell), in which both Beriain and Fraile appeared. War journalists and photojournalists assume these consequences, but their aim is to reveal the truth and fight to change the world.

In the documentary, Beriain praises the love he receives from his friends and family and his luck to be able to practice this profession, in his own words, “freely,” suggesting that the reporter was aware of his potentially ominous end.

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