CPJ calls on Burundi to release Radio Maria reporter

Nairobi, October 13, 2016–Burundi’s national intelligence service should immediately release radio journalist Salvador Nahimana, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police detained Nahimana, a reporter for the Burundian branch of Radio Maria, a global station that broadcasts news and missionary statements, on October 2, and transferred him to the custody of the intelligence service, Burundian journalists told CPJ.

Witnesses said Nahimana was arrested in the capital, Bujumbura, at about 6 p.m. alongside 10 others for allegedly taking part in a meeting that undermined state security, according to a report in the International Business Times. The director of Radio Maria, Bireha Desiré, confirmed the arrest in a telephone call with CPJ yesterday, but declined to comment further. Alexandre Buja, chairman of the Burundi Union of Journalists who is living in exile in Rwanda, said that no charges had been brought against Nahimana.

Radio Maria is a Catholic-run station. The Church has clashed with the Burundian government in recent months, after bishops in 2015 openly demanded that President Pierre Nkurunziza not seek an extra term in office, according to reports. Many members of civil society including lawyers and journalists have been forced to flee into exile after unrest over the elections, but the clergy have remained and continue to criticize government actions, Buja told CPJ. Two thirds of Burundi’s 7 million citizens are members of the Catholic Church, according to figures cited by The Christian Science Monitor.

“Burundi’s authorities should immediately disclose any charges against Salvador Nahimana or release him, and end their harassment of the press,” said Murithi Mutiga, CPJ’s East Africa representative. “Detaining journalists and forcing them into exile are acts of censorship and intimidation, and deny Burundians a key source of information.”

Burundi Information Minister Nestor Bankumukunzi did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment. When contacted by telephone, Bankumukunzi told CPJ to call back in half an hour, but later did not answer his phone.

CPJ is aware of at least 100 journalists who have been forced into exile since unrest in April 2015 over President Nkurunziza challenging the constitution by taking a third term in office. Earlier this year, Jean Bigirimana, of the independent Iwacu newspaper, went missing. His family told news outlets that they believe he has been arrested or killed. He left his house on July 22 after receiving a call from the intelligence service, CPJ reported at the time, and has not been seen since.