Independent radio station remains closed

New York, July 25, 2005—Radio Publique Africaine remained off the air today after police in Burundi closed the independent broadcaster’s offices on Friday night, briefly detaining eight journalists and continuing a standoff over the station’s news coverage.

RPA Deputy Director Jean-Marie Hicuburundi told CPJ that he and seven colleagues were taken to a police station and held for four hours without explanation before being released without charge. The detentions came as police broke into the station compound, padlocked its studios, and cut off its transmitter, despite an earlier agreement between authorities and RPA to end the dispute, CPJ sources said.

The Association of Burundian Journalists (ABJ), the Association of Radio Broadcasters, and the Burundian Press Observatory, which have been mediating the dispute, continued their efforts over the weekend. After meeting with President Domitien Ndayizeye on Saturday, they expect that RPA could be allowed to reopen in the coming days, mediator Innocent Muhozi, who is vice president of the Burundian Press Observatory, told CPJ. The state radio station, RTNB, quoted Ndayizeye as saying that he had decided to close RPA to “safeguard the integrity of state institutions.”

The National Communications Council—known by its French acronym CNC—ordered RPA closed indefinitely on July 15, alleging that its recent election coverage was biased and that it had insulted the council. RPA director Alexis Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award, disputed the council’s allegations and kept the station on the air in defiance of the order.

On July 19, RPA agreed to close for 48 hours as a result of a compromise mediated by the three journalism organizations. Mediators said that the CNC had agreed to lift the ban at the end of the 48 hours, but it failed to take the necessary administrative steps. RPA resumed broadcasting on July 21 and police moved in the next day.

“CPJ calls on President Ndayizeye to ensure that RPA is allowed to resume broadcasting immediately and unconditionally,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.