July 16, 2020
His Excellency Évariste Ndayishimiye
President of the Republic of Burundi
Via Email: [email protected]
Dear President Ndayishimiye,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, note your inauguration pledges to promote human rights, respect freedom of opinion, and guarantee justice for all citizens. We believe that your administration could make quick and significant gains in these commitments by breaking with Burundi’s history of media repression and nurturing an environment where journalists can operate freely and safely. To this end, we urge you to release the four imprisoned Iwacu media group journalists, lift bans on broadcasting outlets, carry out credible investigations into attacks on journalists, and end the use of internet disruptions to control the flow of information.
The four Iwacu journalists, Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi, were arrested in October 2019 while covering clashes in Bubanza. In January they were sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and in June their appeal was rejected. These journalists were simply trying to fulfill their duty to keep Burundians informed. The injustice they have endured is compounded by the increased health risk they face behind bars amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a concern shared by the World Health Organization. We ask that they be freed immediately and unconditionally.
Another Iwacu journalist, Jean Bigirimana, went missing in Bujumbura on July 22, 2016. Shortly before his disappearance, Bigirimana received a call from an intelligence source, according to CPJ research. Bigirimana’s colleagues and family have waited nearly four years for answers. We urge your government to take a strong stand against impunity in attacks on the press and to launch a credible and impartial investigation into Bigirimana’s disappearance.
In recent years the plurality of news sources available to Burundians has eroded. Amid unrest in May 2015, CPJ documented attacks on five broadcasting outlets. Three of these – Bonesha FM, Radio Publique Africaine, and Renaissance Radio and Television – have been unable to resume operations in Burundi. Since 2018 the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America have been banned from operating. The government should immediately lift bans on media outlets and guarantee that they can operate freely, without fearing reprisal.
In your inauguration speech you welcomed back all Burundian refugees. Over 100 Burundian journalists are in exile, most of them having fled in the wake of the 2015 attacks on the media, according to CPJ research and the Burundian Union of Journalists. The Union itself has been suspended from operating in Burundi since 2016, and seven exiled journalists are among a group for whom the Burundian government has issued arrest warrants, according to reports and court documents seen by CPJ. A Burundian court last year ordered the properties of these journalists seized, according to media reports and a 2019 application to the East African Court of Justice. To ensure journalists feel safe to return, we call on the government to lift the suspension of the union and to discontinue ongoing criminal cases against exiled journalists.
The previous administration used internet disruptions to control the flow of information during times of political tension, as CPJ documented during the May 2020 elections and in 2015. Several news outlets remained blocked in Burundi as of May 2020, as CPJ and 30 other organizations noted in a letter to then-President Pierre Nkurunziza. Internet shutdowns not only infringe on the rights of citizens to access information, but also make it difficult and unsafe for journalists to operate. Your administration must unblock news sites, and ensure uninterrupted internet access to Burundians.
The good governance and human rights goals outlined in your inauguration speech are both noble and necessary and we urge you and your administration to take immediate action towards their realization. We share your commitment to dialogue and are open to engagement with your government about strengthening Burundi’s environment for the press.
Committee to Protect Journalists