Burundi Senate passes harsh amendments to press law

New York, April 23, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the passage in the Senate of highly restrictive amendments to Burundi’s Press Law and calls on President Pierre Nkurunziza to reject the bill when it comes to him for confirmation.

“An independent press that is able to monitor donor funding, investigate government deals, and ensure the performance of the country’s economy is essential if Burundi hopes to extend development to all its peoples,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Susan Valentine. “Restrictions on the ability of Burundian journalists to do their job would deny citizens their right to be fully informed and make choices.”

News agencies reported that on April 19, the Burundian Senate voted 32-6 in favor of the bill. The bill initially passed in the National Assembly on April 3. Local and international press freedom groups expressed concern at the time that the bill, if signed into law, would grant the government broad powers to restrict news coverage and force journalists to reveal their sources.

CPJ is concerned with several articles in the bill, including a clause that grants the state unchecked authority to ban publication of any information it deems detrimental based on broad concepts such as national security, public safety, morality, and the national economy. According to the bill, critical coverage of state security or the national economy could lead to a maximum prison sentence of five years. In addition, the bill allows the state to control news coverage by giving it the authority to issue press cards and accreditation to journalists.

CPJ wrote a letter to Nkurunziza on April 16, asking him not to endorse the amendments if they came to him for confirmation.

The editor of African Public Radio (Radio Publique Africaine), Bob Rugurika called on Burundi’s leaders to heed journalists’ protests. He told Radio France International, “We are aware that this law, if it passes as it is, will put an end to a democratic process that had made progress in this area.”

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