CPJ condemns continuing harassment of radio journalists

New York, October 2, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the ongoing campaign of intimidation by the authorities in Burundi against radio stations that have cast doubt on a government claim to have uncovered a coup plot.

The State Prosecutor today questioned three journalists from three independent stations about their sources for a story broadcast at the end of August, according to local journalists. Their editors have been summoned to appear on Wednesday in connection with a police complaint about the same reports. The stations are Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), Radio Isanganiro and Radio Bonesha.

The story, carried by all three broadcasters, said that elements within the police were preparing a fake attack on the presidential palace and on the residence of the ruling party head, to bolster the government’s claims that it foiled a coup plot. This information was attributed to police sources, according to the BBC’s monitoring service.

Since August, the government has jailed several leading opposition figures in connection with the alleged coup plot in March.

“We condemn the harassment and intimidation of RPA, Radio Isanganiro and Radio Bonesha, which are on the front line of investigative reporting in Burundi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Persecuting journalists under the criminal law has a deeply chilling effect, and will only serve to further undermine press freedom in the country.”

RPA director Alexis Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, went into hiding last week, fearing for his safety. He told CPJ that authorities had stepped up a campaign to silence RPA in retaliation for its investigative reporting on government corruption and human rights abuses. Radio Isanganiro’s editor Gabriel Nikundana has also complained of threats. For more information see CPJ’s September 28 news alert.