CPJ condemns partial closure of private radio station

New York, August 21, 2006—Authorities in Burundi have stopped local broadcasts of the private radio station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) in the northern province of Ngozi since Friday. The reason authorities gave for the closure was non-payment of broadcast license fees but several local sources told CPJ the move was in retaliation for RPA’s critical reporting. The station continues to broadcast from the capital, Bujumbura.

RPA director Alexis Sinduhije, who has only recently emerged from hiding after an August 3 police raid on his home in the capital Bujumbura, told the Committee to Protect Journalists today that he again feared for his safety. Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, said the partial closure of RPA could signal a wider crackdown on private media.

Authorities said the raid on Sinduhije’s home was linked to investigations of an alleged coup attempt. The government said in March it had foiled a coup plot, but reports on RPA and other private media have accused the authorities of fabricating the coup allegations as a pretext for clamping down on critics. On August 17, President Pierre Nkurunziza warned unnamed radio stations against playing the role of “judge and jury,” local and international media reported.

“We condemn the closure of Radio Publique Africaine broadcasts,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We appeal to President Nkurunziza to ensure that RPA can go back on the air immediately in Ngozi, and that Alexis Sinduhije can work freely and in safety.”

Former President Domitien Ndayizeye today became the latest person to be arrested in connection with the alleged coup plot, according to international media reports. Others in custody include several former high-ranking officials and a rebel leader.

Nkurunziza was elected last year in polls hailed as an end to more than a decade of civil war and dictatorship.