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Burundi


The African Union's special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, has launched an auspicious initiative in East Africa to counter criminal defamation and sedition laws. Since independence, authorities and business interests in the East and Horn region have used criminal laws on sedition, libel, and insult--often relics of former, colonial administrations--to silence their critics in the press. "Criminal defamation laws are nearly always used to punish legitimate criticism of powerful people, rather than protect the right to a reputation," Tlakula said in a statement.

Patrick Paggio
Niyonkuru is recovering from a bullet wound to the arm. (Courtesy Patrick Paggio
Niyonkuru)

Burundi's government took unusually swift action last week in response to the police shooting of a radio reporter, after the journalist sought information at a roadblock in the capital Bujumbura where market vendors were allegedly being "taxed" for passage. Perhaps the shooting could have been averted if authorities had bothered to discipline officers involved in previous attacks on journalists.

Burundi journalists react to tear gas at Tuesday's protest. (Teddy Mazina)

On Tuesday, Burundi's press corps did what it has done for the past three weeks: protest the imprisonment of one of its own. Hassan Ruvakuki is a reporter jailed since November 28, 2011 on anti-state charges; for the first time, the journalists wore white t-shirts showing Ruvakuki in his green prison uniform. But this time, the reaction by police caught journalists by surprise.

Hassan Ruvakuki (IWACU)

At 8 o'clock Tuesday morning roughly 50 Burundian journalists silently marched around the courthouses in the capital, Bujumbura, and the offices of the justice minister, protesting the imprisonment of their colleague, Hassan Ruvakuki.

"They sentenced him to three years without following the law," said Patrick Nduwimana, one of the protest organizers and the interim director of local private radio station Bonesha FM. A week earlier, on Tuesday, January 8, an appeals court in Burundi had sentenced Ruvakuki, a reporter for Bonesha FM and the French government-backed Radio France Internationale, to three years imprisonment for "working with a criminal group."

Burundi media defy censorship order

A woman mourns at the burial of a man killed in the Gatumba shooting. (Reuters)

Tensions between the Burundi government and the local press are bound to increase as several media this week defied an order not to investigate or discuss a recent massacre. While officials say the measure is "temporary" and necessary to safeguard national unity and the course of justice, independent journalists are asserting their right to publish information in the interest of public accountability.

Rugurika (CPJ)

It's possible that no journalist in the world has received more court summonses in recent weeks than Editor Bob Rugurika of Burundi's Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), a station founded by CPJ award-winner Alexis Sinduhije.

On Tuesday, for the fifth time since July 18, Rugurika was interrogated by a magistrate in the capital, Bujumbura, about programs aired by his station, according to news reports and CPJ research. The magistrate allegedly asked Rugurika to "correct" a broadcast that pointed out that a 1996 U.N. report had implicated an official involved in the setting up of Burundi's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a massacre, RPA Editor-in-Chief Eric Manirakiza told CPJ.

Kavumbagu (AFP)
As recently as April, the state prosecutor in Burundi demanded journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu be put away for life. But just a month later, Africa's only jailed online journalist was a free man. A relentless international campaign by press freedom groups, human rights activists and Western governments had paid off.
Journalists at CPJ's Nairobi launch of Attacks on the Press today. (CPJ)At CPJ's book launch of our annual survey of press freedom conditions across the world, Attacks on the Press, today in Nairobi, we focused on the growing theme of challenges to investigative journalism in Africa, with a particular look at East Africa. The subject certainly resonated with the local and foreign journalists here. 
'The media is now considered part of the opposition,' a civil society leader told CPJ. Seen here is 'opposition' station Radio Publique Africaine, in Bujumbura. (CPJ)After 2006, Burundi's government and media relations seemed promising. The airwaves had been open to private broadcasters for years; the president held frequent press conferences, and the government commended the unified press for its professional 2010 pre-election coverage. "The president had organized an open dialogue with the press before the elections," Information Minister Concilie Nibigira told CPJ. "It is the only country I know who would hold regular meetings with the media." 

Kavumbagu (AFP)

"They like me in here," editor Jean-Claude Kavumbagu said of his fellow prisoners. But sub-Saharan Africa's only jailed online journalist still pays protection money to stay safe in Bujumbura's Mpimba Prison.

The Net Press editor has been here since police arrested him on July 17. He was charged with treason over an article that questioned the competence of Burundi's security services.

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