Burundi arrests two foreign correspondents in wider crackdown

January 29, 2016 4:49 PM

New York, January 29, 2016--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on authorities in Burundi to stop harassing journalists and allow them to freely report on events in the country. At least three journalists have been briefly detained in the past two days.

Writer Jean-Philippe Remy and photojournalist Philip Edward Moore were on assignment for the French daily newspaper Le Monde in Bujumbura on Thursday when police detained them in the Burundian capital, according to press reports. Presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe, writing on Twitter, confirmed the two had been arrested in police raids in the neighborhoods of Nyakabiga and Jabe that saw 17 people arrested and weapons seized. After intense international pressure, including from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the journalists were released on Friday, Le Monde reported. Their reporting equipment was not returned, according to Le Monde.

A Burundian journalist, Hermes Ntibandetse of Radio Publique Africaine, which was one of the biggest independent stations in the country before the government shut it down in May, was also arrested around midday Friday and interrogated for an hour before being released, according to colleagues writing on social media. His arrest and interrogation were confirmed to CPJ by another Burundian journalist who asked not to be named for safety reasons.

"We urge authorities to return Philip Edward Moore's and Jean-Philippe Remy's newsgathering equipment immediately, and to stop harassing journalists," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. "People in Burundi, the region, and around the world have a right to be informed of events on the ground by a range of sources, so authorities must allow local and international media to freely to do their jobs."

Moise Nkurunziza, a deputy spokesman for Burundian police, told The Associated Press on Friday that Moore was arrested in the Nyakabiga neighborhood while meeting with armed rebels and that he attempted to flee when the security forces arrived. He said Remy was arrested when he came looking for Moore. Le Monde said Moore was arrested from a church, and that Remy was arrested when he came to help his colleague.

CPJ has documented a pattern of intimidation and harassment against the media in Burundi which has seen most independent journalists flee the country. CPJ and the Burundi Union of Journalists are aware of at least 100 journalists who have left the country since the mass protests of April 2015 and the attempted coup of May 2015 that followed President Pierre Nkurunziza's announcement he would seek a third term. Many of the journalists who left told CPJ they had been threatened or feared persecution.

Burundi has also signalled its intention to seek the extradition of at least four journalists no longer in the country, according to news reports. CPJ has been able to determine the identities of two of them.

One of them, Radio Publique Africaine's Egide Mwemero, was detained by police in the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2015. The minister for communications and media in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lambert Mende, told CPJ the journalist had been arrested for broadcasting foreign radio without prior authorization, and for exercising professional activities without a license.

Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Publique Africaine, told CPJ in December that he fears Mwemero will be killed if he is sent back to Burundi. Human rights groups have documented many cases of extrajudicial killings in Burundi in recent months. Amnesty International accused Burundian security forces of killing dozens of people in Bujumbura on December 11 alone. The body of at least one of the victims was found tied up.

Burundi on November 23 also petitioned Belgium to extradite Antoine Kaburahe, director of the independent Burundian newspaper Iwacu, according to the newspaper's website, which published what it said was a copy of the extradition request. Kaburahe travelled to Belgium after being interrogated on November 16 on suspicion of having supported the failed coup d'etat in May. In a statement published on Iwacu's website, Kaburahe said there were no restrictions on his movements when he left the country to prepare to assume an academic post in Antwerp.