Burundian journalist Floriane Irangabiye has been detained for over two months without being formally charged. (Credit withheld)

Burundian journalist Floriane Irangabiye detained for over two months without formal charge

Nairobi, November 4, 2022—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday called for the immediate and unconditional release of Burundian journalist Floriane Irangabiye, who has been detained for over two months without being formally charged.

Irangabiye is a commentator and debate program host on Radio Igicaniro, a Rwanda-based outlet that publishes critical commentary and debate on Burundian politics and culture, according to Radio Igicaniro editor Arsène Bitabuzi, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, a report on Facebook by exiled Burundian station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and CPJ’s review of Radio Igicaniro’s content published on YouTube, SoundCloud, Facebook, and distributed via WhatsApp.

In mid-August, Irangabiye traveled from Rwanda, where she has lived since 2009, to visit family in Burundi, according to a person familiar with her case who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. On August 30, intelligence personnel in the capital Bujumbura stopped a vehicle in which Irangabiye was traveling and took her into custody, the person and Bitabuzi said. Irangabiye remains detained but has not been formally charged with any crime, the person, Bitabuzi, media reports, and Radio Igicaniro said.

“After two months, the authorities’ failure to credibly charge Floriane Irangabiye with any crime is evidence that this case is in retaliation for her commentary and critical opinions,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative. “Floriane Irangabiye should be released immediately and allowed to continue her life and work without further interference. Burundi’s government should also hold accountable officials responsible for her arbitrary detention and ill-treatment behind bars.”

Irangabiye was initially detained at the intelligence headquarters in Bujumbura, where she was denied access to family and legal counsel, and was interrogated about her work with Radio Igicaniro, which officers said supported opposition groups, the person familiar with her case said. Officials also accused Irangabiye of working with armed opposition groups and espionage, according to a VOA report and human rights organization ACAT-Burundi. The person familiar with her case said at least one intelligence officer sexually assaulted Irangabiye while she was detained at the intelligence headquarters, by groping her buttocks and breasts. 

In a statement sent via messaging app in response to CPJ’s questions about the sexual assault and whether the government would investigate, Burundi’s prosecutor general Sylvestre Nyandwi called the sexual abuse allegation “unfounded” and an “extension of (Irangabiye’s) harmful acts towards the State of Burundi to tarnish its image.”

On September 8, Irangabiye appeared in court in Bujumbura, where officials accused her of attacking the integrity of the state, but did not file formal charges, RPA and the person familiar with her case said. Irangabiye was then transferred to Mpimba prison in central Burundi. In late September, she was transferred to Muyinga prison in northern Burundi, where she is allowed family visitation, Radio Igicaniro and the person said.

During an October 28 court appearance in Muyinga, Irangabiye was again accused of anti-state crimes against Burundi but also was accused of operating without a journalist’s accreditation, according to the person familiar with her case and Radio Igicaniro. Prosecutors requested more time to gather evidence, and did not formally charge her, the person said.

Prosecutor general Nyandwi said that Irangabiye’s ongoing pre-trial detention was in accordance with Burundi’s criminal procedure code, had been sanctioned by a judge, and that authorities were waiting for a court to settle the matter following the pre-trial stage of the case.

Radio Igicaniro’s programming is stridently critical of Burundi’s government, according to CPJ’s review of its content. In some Radio Igicaniro programming that CPJ reviewed, Irangabiye participated as a debate moderator, host, or commentator, and criticized poor governance and human rights violations by Burundi’s government and called for reform in the country.

Pierre Nkurikiye, spokesperson of Burundi’s interior and public security ministry, did not answer calls from CPJ or queries sent via text message and messaging app.