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Residents gather for a ceremony in Bugendana in June 2018 to mark the adoption of Burundi's new constitution. Three radio journalists covering a land dispute in the country's capital in August 2018 say police harassed and attacked them. (STR/AFP)

In Burundi, three journalists attacked and prevented from covering protest

September 6, 2018 12:00 PM ET

Police on August 27 allegedly attacked three journalists with the privately owned station Radio Culture and prevented them from reporting on a land dispute in Ngagara, a neighborhood in the capital, Bujumbura, according to two of the journalists and a Facebook post by SOS Médias Burundi, a collective of independent journalists that reports on the country.

Alain Majesté Barenga and his colleague, Alain Niyomucamanza, told CPJ they went to Ngagara along with their colleague, Bella Gloria Kimana, and driver, Armand Bigurumuremyi, to investigate reports of a standoff between police and residents who claimed they were not paid "expropriation" fees--compensation paid for land taken by authorities.

The journalists told CPJ that after they introduced themselves to the police and showed their work badges, about 20 officers surrounded them and blocked the journalists from speaking with the residents.

Barenga and Niyomucamanza told CPJ that the officers slapped them and hit Barenga on the back with the butts of their guns. Barenga said the officers tried to take the journalists' recording equipment from Kimana, but she managed to get back into the vehicle and lock herself in. Both Barenga and Niyomucamanza told CPJ that they escaped after residents called on the police officers to stop harassing the journalists.

Barenga told CPJ that he received treatment on August 27 for back pain, Niyomucamanza said that he suffered minor injuries to one of his hands, but that neither Kimana nor the driver, who had stayed in the vehicle, were hurt.

Barenga said the incident was reported to police and the media regulator, the National Communication Council, on August 27.

When contacted by CPJ for comment, police spokesperson Pierre Nkurukiye directed CPJ to a YouTube video of him denying that police assaulted any journalists. Nkurukiye said that police were trying to maintain peace amid a land dispute between two families, and that the journalists did not identify themselves. He said that the journalists tried to use force to cover the case, but were asked to leave.

The media regulator's chairman, Nestor Bankumukunzi, condemned the incident in an August 28 press conference and said that the assault was contrary to press law, according to a report by the news site Iwacu.

The news report cited the ministry of public security saying that the journalists did not identify themselves properly, and accused them of supporting one of the parties in the conflict.

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