Police in the capital, Bujumbura, have cut the transmission of Radio Publique Africaine, according to RPA Director Bob Rugurika, seen here.
Police in the capital, Bujumbura, have cut the transmission of Radio Publique Africaine, according to RPA Director Bob Rugurika, seen here.

Burundian authorities crack down on press ahead of elections

Nairobi, April 29, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harassment of journalists and news outlets in Burundi and calls on authorities to allow them to cover protests ahead of scheduled elections in May and June. Police cut the transmission of at least three radio stations, and telecommunications companies have been ordered to suspend mobile access to social media, according to news reports and local journalists.

Demonstrators in the capital, Bujumbura, have been protesting a congressional decision on Saturday that allows ruling party President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term, news reports said. According to news reports citing protesters, the decision violates a 2000 peace agreement, which limits the president to two five-year terms. Protests by civil society groups and the public since Sunday have led to at least six deaths and more than 300 arrests, according to news reports. Legislative elections in Burundi are scheduled for May, and presidential elections for June.

On Monday, authorities ordered the closure of the leading privately owned station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) in Bujumbura, accusing the station of “incitement” for covering the protests in the capital, according to news reports. Police cut the station’s transmission, RPA Director Bob Rugurika told CPJ. The station remained off the air on Wednesday.

Since Sunday, authorities have ordered two other independent privately owned stations, Bonesha FM and Isanganiro, to cease live broadcasts of the demonstrations and cut their relay transmitters, reducing their broadcast range to cover only Bujumbura, local journalists told CPJ.

On Monday morning, police stormed the Press House, the office of the Burundi Journalist Union, according to news reports and local journalists at the center who spoke to CPJ. The sources said the police did not have a warrant. Five radio stations who contribute election information to a program called Media Synergy, including the three whose transmissions were affected, use the Press House as a base to produce the program.

“Burundian authorities are blatantly trying to gag any media coverage of opposition to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s attempt to secure a third term in office, but gagging the coverage won’t make the opposition disappear,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “The credibility of Burundi’s elections rests in large part on free press coverage of the process, and we call on authorities to let journalists and media outlets do their jobs.”

On Tuesday, telecommunication companies on the orders of the authorities blocked mobile phone access to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Tango, according to news reports. Local journalists said they suspected the social media messaging services were suspended since citizens were using the services to coordinate the protests.