Military prosecutors takeover probe of Burkina Faso jail deaths

Government prosecutors handed the high-profile investigation over to the military after announcing on Wednesday they found no evidence that a dozen men found dead in jail cells were shot.
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Military prosecutors in Burkina Faso have taken over investigations into the death of 12 from a total of 25 people, who were earlier arrested on suspicion of terrorism, in their cells at the Tanwalbougou gendarmerie.

Government prosecutors handed the high-profile investigation over to the military after announcing on Wednesday they found no evidence that the dozen men found dead in jail cells were shot.

Relatives of the men say they were executed by security forces in their cells at Tanwalbougou, in the east of the country, in a case that has been described as “unacceptable” by President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

Human Rights Watch last week called for an independent investigation into the deaths, while CISC, a local group campaigning against what it says is the impunity of the security forces, said an international inquiry is required.

The Burkina Faso government said that two investigations have been launched, one judicial and the other administrative.

Prosecutors announced on May 13 that 12 of 25 people arrested on suspicion of terrorism had died in their cells at the Tanwalbougou gendarmerie.

At a press briefing on Wednesday May 27, the prosecutors claimed that they could conclude that the men did not die of gunshot wounds although there were no autopsies.

“In view of the evidence we have, the 12 people were not shot dead,” said Rasmane Bikienga, the prosecutor-general for the city of Fada N’Gourma.

The prosecutors said that other inmates did not hear gunshots, and that a medical certificate showed there were no obvious signs of bleeding or trauma.

The autopsy could not be carried out because doctors indicated that the bodies were already in a state of decay, another prosecutor said at the press briefing.

The case was being passed to military prosecutors for “further investigation if necessary”, Bikienga said.

President Kabore promised on Saturday “decisions … without hesitation” at the end of the investigations.

Local sources have told the media that most of the men who died in the jail cells were Fulani.

Burkina Faso has battled a terrorist insurgency since 2015. The conflict has provoked attacks on Fulani herders whom other communities accuse of supporting militants.

The country’s security forces, as well as local vigilante groups, have been repeatedly accused of abuses against the Fulani community in recent years.

The local human rights group CISC last week described what happened as “summary executions”.

Witnesses told the group that all of the bodies had head wounds and that their shrouds were stained with blood, CISC said.

The group had said it was trying to find out what happened to others in the jail who were arrested at the same time.

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