New York May 15, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a series of attacks on Burundian news outlets and calls on all sides in the unrest to refrain from attacking or threatening journalists. In recent days, at least five radio stations were attacked during violence over an attempted coup in the capital, Bujumbura, and threats were made against a newspaper which caused it to stop publishing, according to reports.
“We call on the authorities and the citizens of Burundi to respect the role of journalists and the media during these uncertain times, when a consistent flow of information is vital,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator. “Attacking news outlets is never a solution, especially when citizens need to know what is happening around them and those in power should be listening to what their people are saying.”
The attacks occurred after several weeks of protests and civil unrest following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement on April 25 of his intention to seek a third term in office at elections scheduled for June 26, according to news reports. On Wednesday, Major General Godefroid Niyombare announced on a privately owned radio station that he was deposing the president, news reports said. Supporters of the president and Niyombare both began demonstrating in the streets, and the protests turned violent. The president, who was in Tanzania at the time the coup was announced, returned to Burundi Thursday evening, according to reports.
On Thursday, unidentified individuals fired grenades into the compounds of privately owned stations Bonesha FM, Renaissance Radio and Television, Radio Isanganiro, and the privately owned Burundian station African Public Radio, according to reports. Another report on Thursday said that the offices of African Public Radio had been burned down, with report saying that it had been hit by a rocket. None of the stations are currently operating. In Burundi, where Internet penetration was only 1.3 per cent in 2013 according to the International Telecommunications Union, radio is the primary source of news.
Iwacu, Burundi’s most widely circulated newspaper, posted on Twitter on Thursday that it too had shut down. According to Human Rights Watch, the paper closed after receiving threats that it would be targeted in the same way as the radio stations if it continued publishing. Web users trying to access Iwacu’s website on Friday were greeted with a message that said the paper had been forced to temporarily stop work because of safety reasons.
Also on Thursday, armed supporters of President Nkurunziza and Niyombare fought for control of state-run radio Burundi National Radio and Television (RTNB), reports said. By Friday, pro-government forces had succeeded in forcefully regaining control of the station, reports said. The state broadcaster is a particularly powerful news outlet because it is the only station that broadcasts nationally, news reports said.
On Wednesday, protesters attacked the privately owned pro-government radio station Rema FM. Some news reports said the station was burned down. Other reports said cars in front of the station were set on fire, but the station had not been destroyed.
French freelancer Mélanie Gouby, who is in Burundi, told CPJ that social networking sites including Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook had been temporarily inaccessible on cell phones on Wednesday, but she said the Internet had not been cut at any point during the past few days. Blocked mobile access to social media platforms was likely a move intended to prevent Burundians from using the platforms to organize further gatherings and protests, according to reports.