Burundi suspends RPA’s popular talk show

New York, April 27, 2011–Burundi’s state-run media regulator suspended a popular radio talk show on Monday because of accusations made by a caller about the president, according to news reports and local journalists.

The 15 members of the government-appointed National Communications Council (CNC) ordered “Kabizi,” a morning current affairs program on leading independent Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), off the airwaves for four days starting Monday, according to local news reports. The Kirundi-language program, which airs Monday through Friday, features a guest and questions from listeners, RPA Editor-in-Chief Eric Manirakiza, who is also the program’s host, told CPJ.

The CNC ruling, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, faulted the station over “grave accusations against the head of state” made by a caller on the April 21 program. According to Manirakiza, a listener called the program claiming he had fought with President Pierre Nkurunziza during Burundi’s civil war. The caller then said he witnessed Nkurunziza allegedly killing a baby. Manirakiza immediately stopped the caller on the air and urged him to address allegations about the civil war to Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, according to local journalists.

“The suspension over a listener’s live, on-air comment is punitive and should be lifted immediately,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The program host dealt with the caller appropriately. This raises a question therefore about the CNC’s motive in sanctioning the station which has already been harassed for its critical political coverage.”

Monday’s sanction from the CNC is part of an ongoing pattern of government harassment of RPA for its independent coverage of sensitive topics like ongoing unsolved political assassinations. In a March 11 government press statement, the council of ministers urged competent authorities to “end the drift of RPA,” and condemned the station for airing what it called “Insulting comments towards the head of state” on March 8 and 9. According to Manirakiza, his guest, Alexis Sinduhije, an opposition leader, a CPJ-award-winning journalist and once the founder of RPA, had criticized the president’s public silence over a spate of unsolved political assassinations.

Nkurunziza ran for re-election unopposed in Burundi’s May 2010 presidential elections and his ruling coalition swept parliamentary and local elections after the major opposition parties boycotted the polls on claims of arrests of its members and violent repression, according to news reports. Members of the opposition, including the former rebel group FNL, fled into hiding amid political tensions and a wave of unsolved political murders are threatening a fragile peace agreement signed after a 13-year civil war that destroyed the country.

Separately, Faustin Ndikumana, the head driver for RPA, was released on April 13 after spending seven months in prison on false charges of endangering state security and gun-running, according to news reports.