In Burundi, journalist who said president ‘depressed’ is freed on bail

New York, June 23, 2005—Radio and online journalist Etienne Ndikuriyo was released on bail today after spending more than a week in jail for writing a story about the health of President Domitien Ndayizeye. Criminal charges are pending, and he has been ordered to report to a judge once a week, according to his lawyer, Gabriel Sinarinzi.

“I am very happy to be out of prison,” Ndikuriyo told CPJ in a telephone interview from Bujumbura. “If my colleagues here and all around the world had not supported me so strongly, I don’t think I would be out now.” He said he was in good health and had already returned to work.

A public prosecutor ordered his release late last night on bail of 500,000 Burundian francs (US$483).

Ndikuriye was arrested on June 14 and held for three days at the national security agency, before being brought before a public prosecutor and transferred to Bujumbura central prison on June 17. Sinarinzi told CPJ that Ndikuriyo was accused of “violating the honor and the privacy of the head of state” in connection with a June 9 article that said the president was suffering from depression in the wake of his party’s defeat in recent municipal elections. The story appeared on the e-mail news service Zoom Net, of which Ndikuriyo is director. He is also a journalist with the independent radio station Bonesha FM.

Ndikuriye confirmed that agents asked him to reveal his sources, but he refused to do so. He was interrogated on this point even though Burundi’s 2003 media law says that journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources. He was the first Burundian journalist imprisoned for his work since 2001 and the first since Ndayizeye came to power in early 2003.

Burundi’s FDD party, comprising former rebels, won more than half of the seats in the June 3 municipal elections, outperforming Ndayizeye’s FRODEBU party. These were the first national elections since civil war broke out in 1993, and the first in a series of votes marking the completion of Burundi’s transition to democracy. Elections to the lower house of Parliament and the Senate are due to be held in July. The new members of Parliament are due to elect a new president in August.