Ibrahim Traore seized power in Burkina Faso in a September 2022 coup

Ouagadougou (AFP) - Burkina Faso has blocked local internet access to the BBC and Voice of America after they aired a rights report accusing the army of attacks on civilians in its battle against jihadists.

The British and US broadcasters are the latest international media organisations to be targeted since Captain Ibrahim Traore seized power in the West African country in a September 2022 coup.

Burkina’s communications authority, the CSC, announced late on Thursday that it had “directed” internet service providers to suspend access to the BBC, VOA and Human Rights Watch from Burkinabe territory for two weeks.

It said the decision had been taken because BBC and the VOA had aired and also published reports on their digital platforms “accusing the Burkina army of abuses against the civilian population”.

The CSC said the report contained “hasty and biased declarations without tangible proof against the Burkinabe army”.

HRW said Thursday that soldiers in Burkina Faso’s jihadist-hit north had killed at least 223 villagers, including 56 children, in two revenge attacks on February 25.

Burkinabe authorities, contacted by AFP, have not commented on the accusations.

The country has been battling attacks from groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State since a jihadist insurgency swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.

Since then, around 20,000 people have been killed in Burkina Faso and around two million forced to flee their homes.

VOA said on Friday it had sought reactions to the HRW report “from several Burkinabe officials” but had received no response and intended “to continue to fully and fairly cover activities in the country”.

A BBC spokesperson said “the suspension reduces the BBC’s ability to reach audiences with independent and accurate news. We will continue to report on the region in the public interest and without fear or favour.”

- UN ‘concerned’ -

The UN Human Rights Office said it was “concerned” about the suspension.

“Restrictions on media freedom and civic space must stop immediately,” spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a statement.

Map of Burkina Faso.

The CSC warned other media they could face sanctions if they carried the articles.

Under Traore, the junta has distanced Burkina Faso from France, which ruled the country until 1960, and has already targeted a number of French media outlets.

In September, the junta-led government suspended the print and online operations of French media outlet Jeune Afrique in the country after it published two articles about tensions within the military.

In June, it suspended French TV channel LCI for three months.

In March 2023, it also suspended all broadcasts by the France 24 news channel a few months after also suspending Radio France Internationale (RFI). It accused both public media outlets of having relayed jihadist leaders’ messages.

The following month the correspondents of French newspapers Liberation and Le Monde were expelled.