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Former CPJ award winner acquitted in Burundi

(Jean Pierre Harerimana)The staff at CPJ was relieved to hear that former CPJ Press Freedom Award winner Alexis Sinduhije was released from prison today. The former radio station director and veteran Burundian journalist was acquitted by a Bujumbura court after serving four months of a two and a half year jail sentence for "insulting the president." A three-judge panel acquitted Sindhujie on Wednesday after ruling that the charges against him were unsubstantiated. 

In December 2007, Sindhujie founded the opposition party Movement for Security and Development (MSD). Last November, police raided the MSD office and arrested the popular leader, who was a contender for next year's elections along with 37 other party members. According to defense lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana, the arrest was purely political--the charges against Sindhujie stemmed from a document found in his office that allegedly insulted Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. 

Sindjujie is no novice to government repression. In 2001, he started Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), which quickly became the most popular station in the country because of its professional, critical reports. These same critical reports led to repeated closures and death threats directed at RPA staffers, and compelled Sindjujie to seek political asylum for his family in 2003.

In his days at RPA, Sindhujie purposely hired ex-combatants from both Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities to bridge ethnic tensions between citizens and heal rivalries after years of intermittent civil conflict. Eventually, the renowned investigative reporter reasoned that, after six years of speaking out about injustice, change was still not forthcoming to Burundi--after the country's 2005 democratic elections, RPA was still reporting on cases of corruption and oppressive policies that had existed previously under the military regime. Sinduhije finally left journalism for politics. As a Tutsi who adopted a Hutu war orphan, Sinduhije incorporated the same principals of inter-ethnic harmony into the MSD party.

Given his popularity as a potential presidential contender, civil society in Burundi as well as international supporters extensively lobbied for his release. Last month, the Belgian Cooperation Minister Charles Michel called for his release, as well as that of two other detainees, to ensure that the upcoming elections would be free and fair.

One of the other detainees the minister mentioned was the editor of the online news Web site Net Press, Jean Claude Kavumbagu. Last August Kavumbagu was imprisoned on defamation charges after a report that claimed the president had spent US $90,000 on a trip to China during the Olympics. Burundian Minister of Communications Hafs Mossi told CPJ in December 2008 that Kavumbagu's case would be "dealt with shortly." It has now been 180 days, and Kavumbagu is still languishing in Mpimba Central Prison. 

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Comments

In 1998 I spent a semester at Harvard's Kennedy School and met Alexis. Nice, smart guy. I always wondered what had happened to him.
-- Sean

In Burundi's Politics, as a Burundian myself, I can testify that even though the Nation had embraced Democracy, the rule of brutality was still the language that most Politicians and Army used to silence their opponents,or individuals who speak up like Alexis Sinduhije.

I recall the times I started Blogging when I reached the UK in 1999, among the Politicians and Military Officials I openly criticized were some who were related to me, from 1993 Military Coup accused Colonel Pascal Simbanduku, Lieutenant Jean-Paul Kamana and of course pointing my finger at the brutality of Hutu Rebellion Movement.I received a number of Phone calls and Email death threats for the way I was disclosing secrets of things I had been a witness of, but I was thrilled to get Email requests to re-publish my articles.

I did that to remind Burundians and the International Community that Politics should not biased even when you have to question the action/integrity of your own Family involved in certain immoral acts.

With World Politics, if the West can be accountable and denounce Corporation that operate in other Countries, Africa being one of them, where Businesses want to buy goods at a cheap rate and impose that they do not pay taxes, if we can see this sort of integrity, then, we would have done great justice to all Human beings.

In any injustice, the Mass Population are always the ones to suffer.

Let 2009 be an exceptional Year in terms of socio-Political Economic Justice for all, regardless the geographic location of Countries.