Nairobi, January 21, 2015--Burundian authorities imprisoned the director of the privately owned Radio Publique Africaine on Tuesday and charged him with complicity in murder, according to news reports. The arrest followed the station's broadcast of an interview in which an unidentified guest said he was involved in the September murder of three Italian nuns, news reports said.
If the state decides that a journalist's article in Burundi jeopardizes someone's "moral integrity" under the country's Media Law it can demand that the journalist reveals sources, and it can suspend the publication. "It's a backwards, freedom-killing law," said Alexandre Niyungeko, the founder and head of the 300-member Burundi Union of Journalists. Despite the press fraternity's best efforts, including an appeal replete with 15,000 signatures from organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, urging the president to desist from signing it, President Pierre Nkurunziza passed the bill into law on June 4, 2013.
Calls for journalists to exercise a sense of responsibility are very often code for censorship. Yet unethical journalism can also imperil the press. By Jean-Paul Marthoz
Burundi's climate of press freedom deteriorated under President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2013. In June, the president signed into law a severely restrictive bill that forces journalists to reveal sources and places heavy fines and prison sentences on coverage the government considers detrimental to state security or the local economy. In April, CPJ wrote an open letter to the president, calling the law an "affront to the Burundi Constitution," and highlighting specific articles especially restrictive for journalists. Several journalists were attacked over the year, some by police officers attempting to quell a weekly protest by reporters calling for the release of their imprisoned colleague, Bonesha FM correspondent Hassan Ruvakuki. In March, Ruvakuki was released from prison with no explanation. He had been sentenced to prison in November 2011 for "participating with a criminal group" and spent 463 days in jail.
The African Union's special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, has launched an auspicious initiative in East Africa to counter criminal defamation and sedition laws. Since independence, authorities and business interests in the East and Horn region have used criminal laws on sedition, libel, and insult--often relics of former, colonial administrations--to silence their critics in the press. "Criminal defamation laws are nearly always used to punish legitimate criticism of powerful people, rather than protect the right to a reputation," Tlakula said in a statement.
Nairobi, June 17, 2013--Authorities in Burundi have been holding a journalist since Thursday on broad allegations of breaching national security, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the detention of Lucien Rukevya and calls on authorities to disclose its reasons for holding him.
Burundi's government took unusually swift action last week in response to the police shooting of a radio reporter, after the journalist sought information at a roadblock in the capital Bujumbura where market vendors were allegedly being "taxed" for passage. Perhaps the shooting could have been averted if authorities had bothered to discipline officers involved in previous attacks on journalists.
New York, April 23, 2013--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the passage in the Senate of highly restrictive amendments to Burundi's Press Law and calls on President Pierre Nkurunziza to reject the bill when it comes to him for confirmation.
Dear President Nkurunziza: We are writing to bring to your attention restrictive amendments to Burundi's 2003 Press Law that were passed in the National Assembly on April 3. The bill will go before the Senate and if passed, will soon come to you for confirmation. We ask that you use the power of your office to reject this severely restrictive bill, thus reaffirming your government's commitment to press freedom.
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3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
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