Radio station and news agency suspended

New York, February 14, 2005—Burundian independent radio station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) today resumed broadcasting after authorities suspended the station on Friday for two days, accusing it of violating the country’s press law.

Private news agency Net-Press, which was also summarily banned on Friday for seven days following libel complaints, remained shuttered. Local journalists believe that authorities are trying to muzzle the press in the run-up to elections scheduled this year.

“A free and fair election requires unfettered media,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Burundian officials’ recent actions are therefore very troubling. We call on authorities to stop this harassment and to allow Net-Press to resume operations.”

The government-appointed media regulatory body, the Conseil National de la Communication (CNC), issued the suspension orders. The CNC accused RPA of “multiple violations of the law regulating the press in Burundi,” including “offending public morals” by reporting on the rape of an 8-year-old girl and threatening public security by “deforming” the words of Tutsi politician and former President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza.

RPA Director Alexis Sinduhije, a CPJ International Press Freedom awardee in 2004, said these allegations were intended to intimidate the station, which has been airing critical debates and editorials about the country’s electoral process.

Burundi is due to hold elections in April this year, but the electoral timetable has already been delayed. A constitutional referendum has been postponed three times and is now planned for February 28.

In November, the CNC denied a request for RPA to create a regional radio station in partnership with Ngozi University in the north of the country. No radio station, including state-run RTNB, currently has any local affiliates outside the capital, Bujumbura.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, director of Net-Press, said the CNC suspended his news agency because of two articles alleged to be libelous.

One of the Net-Press articles accused Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, head of the National Committee for Rehabilitation of War Victims, of diverting food aid, according to Kavumbagu. An editorial piece that ran several times in January and February said that National Assembly President Jean Minani was lazy and unfit to run for president of Burundi. Minani is expected to be a presidential candidate for FRODEBU, the mainly Hutu party of the current transitional president.

Kavumbagu said he was not given any opportunity to answer the CNC’s allegations.