Rugurika (CPJ)
Rugurika (CPJ)

Burundi’s journalists and lawyers face intense harassment

It’s possible that no journalist in the world has received more court summonses in recent weeks than Editor Bob Rugurika of Burundi’s Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), a station founded by CPJ award-winner Alexis Sinduhije.

On Tuesday, for the fifth time since July 18, Rugurika was interrogated by a magistrate in the capital, Bujumbura, about programs aired by his station, according to news reports and CPJ research. The magistrate allegedly asked Rugurika to “correct” a broadcast that pointed out that a 1996 U.N. report had implicated an official involved in the setting up of Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a massacre, RPA Editor-in-Chief Eric Manirakiza told CPJ.

Also at the same courthouse on Tuesday was Patrick Mitabaro, news editor of Radio Isanganiro, a leading private broadcaster. Mitabaro was responding to his second interrogation in a week for airing an interview in which Burundi Bar Association President Isidore Rufyikiri criticized magistrates for allegedly cowing to political influence from the government. Rufyikiri was jailed for a week because of the comments.

François Nyamoya, who has defended RPA for years, has remained in prison since he was summoned for interrogation on July 29 by Magistrate Adolphe Manirakiza. He was summarily incarcerated on charges of tampering with a witness during a murder trial that took place more than seven years ago.

In a statement that quotes CPJ issued by Human Rights Watch today, HRW declared that the charges against Nyamoya are not only “based on a new penal code, which was not in effect at the time of the alleged offense,” but are voided by a three-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors.

“Both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Burundi is party, strictly prohibit the retroactive application of criminal offenses and penalties,” the organization said. CPJ believes Nyamoya’s arrest is part of an effort by authorities to frustrate the station’s legal defense.

The full HRW statement gives further context to these cases and discusses Burundi’s ongoing harassment of independent journalists who report critically about the administration.