New York, September 17, 2003—In a widening crackdown in Burundi, authorities yesterday closed Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) indefinitely, only days after closing another station, Radio Isanganiro. The shutdown of RPA came after the station broadcast an interview with a rebel spokesman.
On September 13, Radio Isanganiro was ordered closed for one week for airing a discussion on the ongoing Burundian peace process. The broadcast featured Pasteur Habimana, a spokesman for the National Liberation Forces (FNL), the only major ethnic Hutu rebel group that has not signed a cease-fire accord with the government.
On Tuesday, September 16, RPA broadcast a series of telephone interviews focusing on the closure of Radio Isanganiro, according to journalists at RPA. During the program, RPA called Habimana and asked for his reaction. Journalists at RPA told CPJ that Habimana apologized for causing the ban and also commented on the collapse of peace talks between the government and another major rebel group, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD).
Journalists at RPA said that at 6 p.m. that day, the station received a letter from Communications Minister Albert Mbonerane ordering the station closed “for an indefinite period,” effective 7 p.m. Before going off the air, the station broadcast parts of the minister’s letter, which accused RPA of “violating Article 44 of the press law by vilifying the government and disseminating propaganda of the country’s enemy.” The letter also said that authorities have warned radio stations not to broadcast “inflammatory statements against the government, which is trying to obtain a global and permanent cease-fire,” a sentence also contained in the letter received by Radio Isanganiro.
“Closing a radio station for attempting to cover all sides of the conflict in Burundi is outrageous,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Burundian government to lift the bans on Radio Isanganiro and Radio Publique Africaine immediately and unconditionally.”
Burundian journalists told CPJ that private radio stations Bonesha FM, CCIB FM, and RPA had announced a boycott on reporting government activities for the duration of Radio Isanganiro’s closure.