Journalist arrested after reporting president ‘depressed’

New York, June 14, 2005—Radio and online journalist Etienne Ndikuriyo was arrested today by the national intelligence agency in connection with a story that questioned the health of President Domitien Ndayizeye, according to The Associated Press and sources interviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was being held at the intelligence agency’s headquarters in the capital, Bujumbura.

Ndikuriyo reported June 9 that 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; Ndikuriyo is director of the news service. He is also a journalist with the independent radio station Bonesha FM.

Bonesha FM editor Léon Masengo told CPJ he visited Ndikuriyo today. He said his colleague appeared “very tired,” but the two were not permitted to exchange much information.

The AP quoted Lt. Col. Jancier Rubwebwe, head of the national intelligence service, as saying that Ndikuriyo was being asked to reveal his sources, but had refused to do so. Local journalists said the offending story had quoted anonymous sources described as close to Ndayizeye. A media law passed in 2003 provides for protection of sources.
No formal charges have been made public against Ndikuriyo.

“We are deeply troubled by Ndikuriyo’s arrest and the apparent attempts to make him reveal his sources,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the Burundi authorities to release him immediately, and to ensure that journalists can work freely in Burundi, especially during this crucial election period.”

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 then due to elect a new president in August.