Friday, March 7, 2008

After protests in Burkina Faso, a wave of arrests and worries over human rights

The final tally is in: During the violent protests last week that shook Ouagadougou, the government of Burkina Faso said 184 people had been arrested. That amount surpasses the total of 100 arrests during protests a week before in the country’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso.

One of those detained in Ouagadougou was Nana Thibaut, the leader of a small opposition party, who originally organized the one-day protests against spiraling increases in the cost-of-living, where some goods have increased by nearly 65 percent since the beginning of 2008. Nana was accused of “sedition” for having called on the destruction of property, government spokesman Philipe Sawadogo said.

Ouagadougou’s protest began as a “dead ville day,” where businesses in all sectors were to shut in an attempt to close down the city. However, by mid-morning, the strike turned violent in parts of the city, where groups of 15 to 20 people began attacking businesses that remained open, government offices, cars and other symbols of power.

Protests over price increases and subsequent government inaction in Burkina Faso began a week before on Wednesday, February 20 in Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouahiguoya, where they also turned violent. The demonstrations then spread to the south-western city of Banfora. News accounts claim that the government daily newspaper Sidwaya reported that 29 people have already been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 36 months stemming from the protests in Bobo.

Local human rights organizations have expressed worries that human rights violations were committed against some of those arrested during the demonstrations in Ouagadougou. From Inter Press Service:

"We were told a while ago that there would have been cases of torture amongst the persons detained after the damages of the 28th of February," said Chrizogome Zougmonré, president of the Burkinabé Movement for Human and People's Rights, a non-governmental organisation based in Ouagadougou.

"We have checked and it seems there were relatively serious abuses of certain detainees," he added. Zougmonré also said that he had started proceedings for paying a visit to the detainees.

The fears come despite Transport Minister and government spokesman Philippe Sawadogo's assurances that those detained would be treated fairly. "We will respect the rules of justice, which will follow its normal course," he said Monday, during a press briefing in Ouagadougou.

For their part, opposition groups are angered that certain detainees were imprisoned before being heard by a judge.

"The constitution gives rights to people; these must be respected under all circumstances, especially on the part of the state," said Philippe Ouédraogo, leader of the African Independence Party and head of the G14, which includes other opposition parties.

"What we must fear, today, is that because there were damages, the government is furious -- that the government no longer respects people's rights," he added.

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