Court acquits journalists charged with endangering security

New York, January 3, 2007—A court in Burundi today rebuffed the government, ordering the release of three journalists and rejecting the prosecution’s claim that their reporting in connection with an alleged coup plot compromised public security.

A panel of judges in the capital Bujumbura acquitted editor Serge Nibizi and journalist Domitile Kiramvu of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and director Matthias Manirakiza of Radio Isanganiro on charges that included endangering public security, defense lawyer Raphael Gahungu told CPJ. He said the three are expected to be released from custody on Thursday.

“We are relieved that our colleagues have been cleared of these preposterous charges and are to be freed,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We urge the government to take note of this ruling and cease the prosecution of journalists for critical reporting.”

The court dismissed the prosecution’s claim that reporting linked to a purported coup plot compromised public security, Gahungu said. He said a fourth journalist, Radio Bonesha director Corneille Nibaruta, had also been acquitted in absentia of similar charges.

Nibizi and Kiramvu were arrested on November 22, while Manirakiza was jailed a week later. Nibaruta was also called to the state prosecutor’s office but did not answer the summons and instead went into hiding.

Since September, the government has cracked down on RPA, Radio Isanganiro and Radio Bonesha for their critical reporting. Seven opposition figures have been jailed since August in connection with the alleged coup plot. Their trial began on November 24.

For more information, see CPJ’s December 14 news alert