Security officials arrest Burundian TV journalist

Nairobi, June 17, 2013Authorities in Burundi have been holding a journalist since Thursday on broad allegations of breaching national security, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the detention of Lucien Rukevya and calls on authorities to disclose its reasons for holding him.

Burundi’s intelligence service arrested Rukevya, a journalist and producer for the state-run National Radio and Television of Burundi, according to news reports and local journalists. Telesphore Bigirimana, government spokesman for national security, said Rukevya had been in possession of “incriminating documents” but did not offer further details, news reports said. No charges have been filed against him.

Alexandre Niyungeko, president of the Burundian Union of Journalists, said Rukevya had been accused of involvement with M23 rebels, news reports said. M23 rebels are former Congolese soldiers who mutinied against the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 for allegedly reneging on a 2009 peace agreement. Reports said Rukevya had been arrested with a former minister and two Congolese men who were said to be members of the M23 rebel group.

The extent and nature of the M23’s presence in Burundi are unclear.  

Local journalists told CPJ the reporter was being held at the central intelligence office in the capital, Bujumbura. Security personnel searched Rukevya’s home and office today. They have allowed him limited access to a lawyer, the sources said.

“We are concerned that Burundian authorities may be using overly broad national security laws to arbitrarily detain a journalist who is seeking to cover a sensitive news story,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Authorities should disclose evidence against Lucien Rukevya or release him immediately.”

The arrest follows the passage of a new media law in Burundi that forces journalists to reveal their sources and criminalizes coverage of any information the state deems detrimental based on broad concepts such as national security and public safety.

A week after President Pierre Nkurunziza promulgated the law, authorities summoned at least two other journalists for questioning, according to news reports. On June 11, police in Bujumbura interrogated Janvier Harerimana, reporter for the independent Radio Isanganiro, and demanded he give up his sources to a story concerning an alleged murder by the Imbonerakure, a ruling-party youth league, local journalists told CPJ. Two days later, a state prosecutor summoned Evariste Nzikobanyankain, a reporter for the same station, in connection with a story that could be “detrimental to public safety,” Niyungeko said. Nzikobanyanka had aired a story concerning reports of mismanagement by the National Commission for Land and Property (CNTB), local journalists told CPJ.