Police shutter independent radio station

New York, July 22, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply shocked about today’s closure of independent radio station Radio Publique Africaine. The closure took place despite an earlier compromise deal between the authorities and RPA, local sources said.

RPA fell silent around 5 p.m. local time as a large group of police broke into the station compound, padlocked its studios, and cut off its transmitter. It was not immediately clear if any RPA staff had been arrested, although one journalist told CPJ in a brief phone call, “they are taking us to the police station.”

The National Communications Council—known by its French acronym CNC—ordered RPA indefinitely closed last Friday, 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, denied the council’s allegation of bias and said the station would defy the ban.

On Tuesday, however, RPA agreed to close for 48 hours, following a compromise deal mediated by the Association of Burundian Journalists (ABJ), the Association of Radio Broadcasters, and the Burundian Press Observatory, a self-regulatory body for the profession. Mediators said that as part of the compromise, the CNC had agreed to lift the ban at the end of the 48 hours.

RPA resumed broadcasting Thursday morning and continued until police moved in. According to CPJ sources, orders to send in the police came from the office of President Domitien Ndayizeye, whose FRODEBU party lost to the former rebel movement CNDD-FDD in recent municipal and parliamentary elections. The CNC did not issue any statements on the matter, local sources said

“CPJ is outraged at the Burundian authorities’ failure to deliver on their promise,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on President Ndayizeye to ensure that RPA can resume broadcasting immediately, allowing journalists to work freely without fear of reprisal.”

Read more information about CPJ award winner Alexis Sinduhije.