Third radio journalist jailed in growing crackdown

New York, November 29, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists demands that three radio journalists jailed in Burundi in the past week, including Matthias Manirakiza detained today, be released immediately.

“This looks more and more like a campaign to silence respected independent broadcasters who have spearheaded investigative reporting on human rights abuses and corruption,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the government of Burundi to release Matthias Manirakiza and two journalists from Radio Publique Africaine immediately and unconditionally.”

Manirakiza, director of Radio Isanganiro, was held over a story alleging a plan to stage an attack on the presidential palace. On November 22, editor Serge Nibizi and journalist Domitile Kiramvu of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) were imprisoned on charges of threatening state security. Two days later, five independent radio stations organized a one-day media blackout to protest their imprisonment.

Manirakiza was sent to the central prison in the capital Bujumbura after police questioned him about a story broadcast in August. It was not clear whether he had been charged. The report cited police sources as saying authorities planned to stage fake attacks on the homes of top officials to bolster their claims of a coup plot. Several top opposition leaders, including the former president, are currently on trial for alleged participation in the plot. Agence France-Presse quoted Manirakiza’s lawyer Raphael Gahungu as saying that his client was jailed for allegedly “authorizing the broadcast of information threatening to state and public security.”

“Manirakiza’s fate had been determined beforehand,” Gahungu also told AFP. “It was evident from the number of police officers sent here.” Radio Isanganiro is backed by the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Search for Common Ground. Radio Publique Africaine’s director Alexis Sinduhije won an International Press Freedom Award from CPJ in 2004. He has been in hiding since September, following threats to his safety.

On November 28, journalists Bob Rugurika and Christelle Ruvari of RPA were also summoned and questioned over a story related to the alleged coup plot. They were provisionally released the same day, but could be summoned back and arrested at any time, according to Jean-Marie Hicuburundi, assistant director of RPA.

Frank Kaze, the head of Burundi’s journalists’ union, was today quoted by AFP as saying, “The government is brazenly violating the law. This government is no longer hiding that it wants to silence private radios that denounce the numerous abuses committed in this country.”

For more information on the RPA arrests, see CPJ’s November 22 alert: