Police attack journalists at ousted politician’s news conference

New York, April 18, 2006—Police in Burundi attacked journalists on Monday who refused to hand over recordings of a news conference at the home of an ousted ruling party politician. Journalists said police surrounded the Bujumbura house of Mathias Basabose and prevented more than 30 reporters and human rights activists from leaving for more than seven hours after the press conference ended. Reporter Chantal Gatore of the independent station Radio Isanganiro, was hospitalized after she was beaten with clubs and rifle butts, her colleagues told CPJ.

“Cracking a journalist over the head with a rifle butt at a press conference is a crude and reprehensible form of censorship and intimidation,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We call on the authorities in Burundi to investigate this thuggish police behavior immediately and bring those responsible for attacking and harassing reporters to justice.”

After reporters refused to hand over their tapes police assaulted them, injuring several. Other journalists who came to report on the stand-off at the house were also attacked.

Basabose invited the press to his home to denounce his expulsion from the ruling CNDD-FDD party, a former rebel group that came to power in 2005 elections hailed as a step forward for Burundi’s nascent democracy. The CNDD-FDD expelled Basabose on Saturday accusing him of corruption, according to news reports.

Private and state-owned radio stations today broadcast a joint editorial condemning the attack, calling it “a despicable and irresponsible act by the police and the presidential intelligence service.”