New York, December 14, 2006—Three private radio journalists returned to prison today after their one-day trial in the capital, Bujumbura, according to local journalists. The three have been jailed for more than two weeks while a fourth journalist went into hiding after receiving a judicial summons. Since September, the government has cracked down on three prominent independent stations for their critical reporting of a disputed coup plot.
No verdict was immediately reached. The state prosecutor requested three years imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 Burundian francs (US$300) for editor Serge Nibizi and journalist Domitile Kiramvu of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and director Matthias Manirakiza of Radio Isanganiro, according to lawyer François Nyamoya and a local journalist.
“We believe that when the court examines the evidence it will find this to be a politically motivated prosecution,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We urge the court to reach a speedy verdict acquitting these three journalists of all charges.”
Nibizi and Kiramvu are charged with violating judicial secrecy laws in a November news item that discussed a claim in the pro-government newspaper Intumwa about the alleged coup plot. The Intumwa story said investigators had uncovered evidence of the purported plot.
No action has been taken against Intumwa.
Nibizi, along with Manirakiza, has also been charged with threatening state security and public safety in an August story aired on RPA, Radio Isanganiro, and another independent station, Radio Bonesha. The reports 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.
The three radio stations had previously cast doubt on the veracity of the coup plot, suggesting it may have been an excuse to crack down on the opposition and the independent media. Seven opposition figures—including the former, transition president—have been jailed since August in connection with the alleged coup plot. Their trial began on November 24.
International observers and civil society attended the trial, but police prevented journalists from entering the courtroom, Radio Bonesha reporter Etienne Ndikunyo told CPJ. Outside the courthouse, where about 300 people had gathered to follow the proceedings through loudspeakers, local journalists wore white wristbands and headbands to symbolize the innocence of the journalists, he said.
Nibizi and Kiramvu were arrested on November 22, while Manirakiza was jailed a week later. Corneille Nibaruta, director of Radio Bonesha, was also called to the state prosecutor’s office but did not answer the summons and instead went into hiding.