Communications Minister Karenga Ramadhani likened RPA to Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, the radio station that incited genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994.
“The government of Burundi is playing with fire by invoking the specter of genocide to intimidate a highly respected radio station whose programs have helped the nation heal its ethnic divisions,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the government to publicly express its support for RPA, guarantee the safety of its employees, and refrain from making inflammatory statements.”
Minister Ramadhani told CPJ today that the government did not intend to harm Sinduhije, but he said that RPA, a popular station based in the capital Bujumbura, was “like RTLM,” the Rwandan broadcaster blamed for inciting violence against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, told CPJ Wednesday authorities had stepped up a campaign to silence RPA in retaliation for its investigative reporting on government corruption and human rights abuses. He has now gone into hiding for the second time in less than two months, fearing for his safety.
CPJ sources in Bujumbura confirmed that RPA had been subject to intimidation and harassment, and that government officials had accused the station of working for the opposition.
Pro-government media, and particularly the Web site of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, www.burundi-info.com, have recently run articles smearing Sinduhije and Gabriel Nikundana, editor of the private station Radio Isanganiro. Nikundana has also complained of threats.
Local journalists say RPA, and two other independent stations, Radio Isanganiro and Radio Bonesha have been targeted by authorities especially since August when they cast doubt on an alleged coup plot which the government says it foiled. The government has jailed a number of leading opposition figures in connection with the purported coup attempt.
Sinduhije founded RPA in early 2001 at a time when Burundi was seeking to end a devastating eight-year conflict between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis. The station has sought to promote peace by hiring both Hutus and Tutsis, including ex-combatants, to work on the editorial team.
Sinduhije went into hiding in early August after security forces raided his home, in connection with their coup plot investigations. Later the same month, authorities stopped local broadcasts of RPA in the northern province of Ngozi, saying the station had failed to pay broadcast fees. However, several local sources told CPJ the move was in retaliation for RPA’s critical reporting. That ban has now been lifted.
On September 20, the national communications council, an official regulatory body, issued a statement accusing RPA of violating journalism ethics, although it also reminded the government that the media “are not adversaries, let alone enemies,” and called on authorities to provide media outlets with information.