New York, November 30, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by the ongoing detention of a radio journalist in Burundi since Monday.
Security agents with the country’s National Intelligence Service arrested Hassan Ruvakuki, a reporter for private station Radio Bonesha FM and Radio France Internationale‘s Swahili service, while he was covering a regional summit in the capital, Bujumbura, local journalists told CPJ. The officers searched his home and detained him in eastern Burundi, refusing him access to his family or legal counsel, local journalists said. Radio Bonesha FM is a critical, independent broadcaster based in Bujumbura.
Télesphore Bigirimana, a spokesman for the Burundian intelligence agency, said Ruvakuki was being questioned over his relations with a new rebel group, according to news reports. Local journalists told CPJ they believe he was arrested because his station aired an interview with former police officer Pierre Claver Kabirigi, who claimed to be part of a new rebel group called the Front for the Restoration of Democracy-Abanyagihugu. Kabirigi had released a statement saying his group had been formed in reaction to corruption and extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by the ruling party.
Last week, Radio Bonesha FM aired the interview with Kabirigi, while other stations broadcast an audio recording of Kabarigi’s statements, local journalists told CPJ. Days later, the state-run National Council for Communication issued an open-ended media ban on all news coverage of the rebel group, news reports said.
“This arrest is part of a pattern of state-orchestrated intimidation of private media,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Authorities have presented no evidence against Hassan Ruvakuki and he should be released immediately.”
The ruling party has attempted to silence Burundi’s critical press in the past by using court summons and threats of closure, according to CPJ research. Last September, Information Minister Concilie Nibigira announced a 30-day media ban on covering a massacre in a bar in which more than 35 people were killed. On November 8, the public prosecutor summoned the interim director of Radio Bonesha FM, Patrick Nduwimana, and Radio Publique Africaine editor Bob Rugurika and questioned them over the programs they aired on the bar massacre after the deadline had passed, Rugurika told CPJ. Two days later, the public prosecutor summoned Nduwimana again, along with the directors of Radio Publique Africaine and Radio Isanganiro, and questioned them over their station’s funding sources, news reports said.