Rwandan journalist arrested in Burundi, charged with spying

New York, June 12, 2015–A Rwandan journalist who was arrested in Burundi on Monday has been charged with espionage, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Burundian authorities to release the journalist and drop the charge immediately.

Etienne Mivumbi Besabesa is a reporter for community radio stations Radio Izuba and Radio Flash and also works as a correspondent for the independent news website Igihe, according to news reports. He was arrested in Giteranyi, a commune in the northeastern Burundian province of Muyinga, and charged today with espionage, according to Agence France-Presse which cited Ernest Nduwimana, the public prosecutor of Muyinga province. Nduwimana said the journalist’s equipment had also been confiscated. Besabesa was transferred to the provincial capital of Muyinga after his arrest.

Besabesa was arrested while reporting on Burundian citizens fleeing to Rwanda, reports said. More than 30,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda in recent months after violence erupted in the country stemming from an unsuccessful military coup in mid-May that sought to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza after he announced his bid for a third term, according to news reports. The government has violently cracked down on protesters, and journalists and news outlets have come in the line of fire.

“We are extremely concerned about the well-being of local and international journalists in Burundi, who are trying to report on a volatile situation,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Burundians have a right to express themselves and to be heard, both at home and in the region. We call on Burundi authorities to drop the charge against Etienne Mivumbi Besabesa, return his equipment, and release him immediately.”

CPJ’s calls for comment to Philippe Nzobonariba, spokesman for the Burundian government, and to Willy Nyamitwe, spokesman for the Burundian president, were not answered. CPJ’s calls to the Rwanda Media Commission and the Rwandan embassy in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura were not answered.

On Wednesday, the Rwanda Media Commission, a media self-regulatory body in Rwanda, released a statement calling for Besabesa’s release and urging Burundian officials to ensure his safety and that of his equipment.