New York, July 19, 2010—Burundian authorities’ arrest
on Saturday of journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu on treason charges over commentary critical of the country’s security forces is alarming, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. He is being held in Mpimba prison in the capital, Bujumbura
Kavumbagu, editor of the private online daily Net Press,
could face life in prison if convicted over a July 12 story reporting on the
11 terrorist attacks in neighboring Uganda, defense lawyer Gabriel Sinarinzi
told CPJ. The Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the
blasts and threatened
more attacks against Uganda
and Burundi unless they
withdrew peacekeeping forces deployed in Somalia, according to news reports.
Net Press’ story questioned the
ability of Burundian security forces to prevent a potential attack in the
country, and accused the forces of looting and killing in Burundi, according to CPJ research.
It’s not clear why Kavumbagu was charged with treason, a
war-time offense, and not under Burundi’s
press law, according to Sinarinzi. The defense had requested the journalist’s
release on bail pending trial, he added. Kavumbagu’s detention violates the
Burundian criminal procedure code, which allows pre-trial detention of suspects
under limited conditions that do not apply to the journalist’s case, Sinarinzi
“The treason charge against Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an extreme
form of intimidation,” CPJ East Africa consultant Tom Rhodes said. “The
authorities must follow the national press law and release Kavumbagu on bail.”
Officer David Nikiza arrested Kavumbagu at his office on Saturday and took him
to the office of Magistrate Tabu Renovat, where he was interrogated for two
hours, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba prison, the journalist’s
brother, Jean-Marie Vianney Kavumbagu, told CPJ. The same day, 15 radio
stations in Bujumbura
broadcasted a simultaneous message calling for Kavumbagu’s release, he said.
Kavumbagu is already battling a
government appeal of a March
2009 dismissal of criminal defamation charges over an article that claimed
President Pierre Nkurunziza spent an exorbitant amount during his trip to the
2008 summer Olympics in China,
according to Sinarinzi.
Tensions in Burundi
were high last month during presidential
elections in which all opposition candidates withdrew over fears the
outcome would be rigged—the incumbent remained as the only choice on the
ballot, The Associated Press reported. And authorities
Human Rights Watch researcher Neela Ghoshal from Burundi in May after the
publication of a report documenting pre-election violence.