Best of AP — First Winner


AP exposes evidence that Burkina Faso security forces massacred civilians

A mural is seen in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on March 1, 2023. Burkina Faso's government has opened investigations into allegations of human rights abuses by its security forces after a video surfaced that appeared to show the extrajudicial killing of seven children in the country’s north. AP PHOTO


West Africa Correspondent Sam Mednick obtained exclusive accounts from massacre survivors in the remote region of Zaongo in Burkina Faso.

Killings of civilians by security forces happen regularly in Burkina Faso yet are hardly reported amid a brutal war with jihadist rebels. Few survivors are brave enough to speak out and most flee, staying silent under a repressive regime. Government investigations are also rare, and no one is held accountable.

Mednick, who is based in Senegal, was looking into reports of one of many such violent incidents that she had seen video evidence of circulating in WhatsApp groups, when a source in Dakar said he had relatives who survived the massacre and could speak to her. Mednick thought he was referring to the massacre in the videos she had seen but it turned out to be a different one — the Zaongo massacre.

Through the trusted contact in Senegal, she was able to talk to a family that lived in the area and connect with survivors. To not expose witnesses to risk, Mednick arranged to get testimonies and supporting visual evidence remotely, arranging safe houses and getting interviews translated from local languages.

AP was the only media able to get the story and photos of this attack, one of several killings under investigation by the U.N. and government. To date, no one has been held accountable.

Washington-based newsperson Michael Biesecker was able to add reporting on Burkina’s military links to the U.S. and worked closely with Mednick from the start to develop the reporting.

The story provoked a strong reaction from Burkina Faso’s military junta, who claimed it was part of an orchestrated campaign against them, ensuring that the story gathered even more attention internally than it might have otherwise. The government expelled a Ougadougou-based freelance photojournalist accredited by AP who was completely uninvolved in the story.

For exposing a crime that was all but impossible to report on, Mednick and Biesecker’s story is Best of AP — First Winner.

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