Journalist jailed for five months for remarks in a bar

New York, September 19, 2006—A reporter for the Burundian state news agency was sentenced to five months in jail on Monday for slandering the state in a private barroom conversation, according to media reports and the journalist’s lawyer. Aloys Kabura, a correspondent for Agence Burundaise de Presse in the northern province of Kayenza, has been in prison since May 31 after a conversation in which he criticized police in Bujumbura for attacking journalists on April 17.

Defense lawyer Raphael Gahungu told CPJ that Kabura’s imprisonment had no legal basis but was part of a government clampdown on critical journalists. The charge— speaking words deemed harmful to the state—is based on a conversation in which Kabura made critical comments to a state intelligence agent. The government alleged that the comments included a slur, but Gahungu said his client disputed that characterization.

CPJ sources speculate that Kabura is being punished for his reporting on alleged corruption. The sources noted that police had detained Kabura in March in connection with a story alleging police involvement in a purported sugar trading scandal.

Evode Ndayizigiye, Agence Burundaise de Presse editor, called the detention illegal and said that the court should have ordered Kabura’s immediate release, The Associated Press reported.

“It is a staggering indictment of Burundi’s justice system that a journalist can be hauled off to prison for remarks made in a private conversation in a bar,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to release Kabura immediately.”

Kabura’s detention is part of a pattern of press freedom abuses in Burundi. In August, police raided the home of Alexis Sinduhije, director of private radio station Radio Publique Africaine, and stopped local broadcasts of RPA in the northern province of Ngozi. Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, said the moves were in retaliation for his station’s critical reporting, especially in the wake of an alleged coup attempt in March. Several leading opposition figures have been jailed in connection with the alleged attempt.

Gabriel Nikundana, editor of another private station, Radio Isanganiro, has also complained of threats after his station aired an interview in August that cast doubt on the veracity of the coup attempt.