Nairobi, January 21, 2015–Burundian authorities imprisoned the director of the privately owned Radio Publique Africaine on Tuesday and charged him with complicity in murder, according to news reports. The arrest followed the station’s broadcast of an interview in which an unidentified guest said he was involved in the September murder of three Italian nuns, news reports said.
Prosecutor Emmanuel Nkurikiye accused Bob Rugurika in court of concealing the identity of an individual who in an interview with the station last week said he had been involved in the murders of three nuns in Kamenge, a town north of Bujumbura, according to local journalists. The source also identified others who he said participated in the murders, including former and current intelligence and police officers, reports said. He did not provide any evidence.
The station, which is known for its criminal investigative reports, refused the prosecutor’s request to reveal the name of the source. Rugurika told the prosecutor it was not “his job to arrest criminals,” his lawyer said, according to news reports.
Rugurika has been charged with breach of public solidarity, complicity in murder, and violating the secrecy of an investigation, his defense lawyer, Lambert Nigarura, told CPJ. He faces up to 20 years in jail. According to Burundian criminal law, a panel of judges will review Rugurika’s case in one week to determine whether he will be eligible for bail.
He is being held in Mpimba Prison in the capital, Bujumbura, according to news reports.
Italian nuns Lucia Pulici and Olga Raschietti were found dead in their dormitory on September 7, 2014, and Bernadetta Boggian was found dead the next day, news reports said. Police arrested one suspect shortly after the murders, but some reports questioned why the third nun was killed despite being guarded by police.
The station had conducted a series of investigative reports on the murder case last week. Prior to his arrest, Rugurika told CPJ that another RPA journalist had gone into hiding fearing arrest for investigating the case.
“Bob Rugurika and the rest of RPA staff are doing their jobs by reporting on a heinous crime. The confidentiality of sources is integral to investigative journalism,” CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes said. “We call on authorities to focus on the perpetrators of the crime, not the messenger–they should drop all charges against Rugurika and release him immediately.”
Burundian journalists and activists gathered outside the courthouse on Tuesday to protest Rugurika’s arrest, according to local news reports. The privately owned weekly Iwacu released an online petition, calling for the journalist’s release.
The murders made international headlines. The nuns had lived in Burundi for seven years, where they offered health care and support to the local communities, according to news reports. Pope Francis said he was “deeply affected” by the murders, while Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said the killings had brought “great pain,” news reports said.