CPJ condemns harassment of Burundian radio director

New York, August 4, 2006—A prominent radio journalist went into hiding for fear of arrest after police searched his home on Thursday. Alexis Sinduhije, founder and director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and a 2004 recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award, said authorities sought to arrest him in retribution for recent reports he had aired accusing the government of corruption and human rights abuses.

Authorities claimed they are investigating an alleged coup attempt, but Sinduhije said they were using the allegations to crack down on the press and the opposition. “They are trying to shut me up,” he told CPJ in a telephone interview today.

“We condemn the government’s intimidation of Alexis Sinduhije, a pioneering independent journalist,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, “We believe authorities are using this emotional charge to mask their true motives, to punish a critical journalist.”

This week, Burundian authorities arrested several former high-ranking officials and a rebel leader, accusing them of plotting to assassinate President Pierre Nkurunziza and the chairman of the ruling party, according to international news reports. Nkurunziza was elected last year in polls hailed as an end to more than a decade of civil war and dictatorship.

RPA, a popular station based in the capital, Bujumbura, has been shuttered several times over its critical reporting. In July 2005, police forced the station off the air after the National Communications Council (CNC), an official media regulatory agency, alleged that RPA’s election coverage was biased and that it had insulted the council. However, after a public outcry, the CNC chairman resisgned and RPA’s deputy director was appointed as a member of the council.