The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the continued imprisonment of radio and online journalist Etienne Ndikuriyo in connection with an article he wrote about Your Excellency's health.
Officers of the national security agency arrested Ndikuriye on June 14, and held him in the agency's cells for three days without access to a lawyer. By law, Ndikuriye was entitled to a lawyer's representation during that time, according to Gabriel Sinarinzi, a lawyer who was eventually allowed to advise the journalist.
He was questioned about a June 9 article, which said Your Excellency was suffering from depression in the wake of your party's defeat in recent municipal elections. The story appeared on the e-mail news service Zoom Net, of which Ndikuriyo is director. He is also a journalist with the independent radio station Bonesha FM.
Ndikuriye was asked to reveal his sources, but he refused to do so. He was interrogated on this point even though Article 8 of Burundi's 2003 media law says that journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources, according to the Association of Burundian Journalists.
On June 17, Ndikuriye was brought before a public prosecutor, who ordered that the journalist be transferred to the central prison in Bujumbura. Sinarinzi told CPJ that the prosecutor produced an arrest warrant that stated Ndikuriye was being held for "violating the honor and the privacy of the head of state." This is a serious charge that can carry a penalty of up to five years of imprisonment upon conviction.
Despite being held in detention for seven days, however, Ndikuriye has not been brought before a judge for a hearing, as required by law.
Ndikuriye's detention appears to be carried out in violation of Burundi's own laws and procedures. We urge Your Excellency to ensure that Ndikuriye is released immediately and unconditionally, and that journalists can work freely during this crucial election period in Burundi. Criminal sanctions for press offenses have a chilling effect on press freedom, undermining a vital component of democracy.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.