Christophe Nkezabahizi

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On October 13, 2015, Christophe Nkezabahizi, a cameraman for the state-run station RTNB, was one of at least nine civilians killed when police raided his neighborhood to search for a group suspected of kidnapping of three police officers, one of whom was killed, according to news reports, a government statement, and a statement from the spokesperson of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Burundi police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye initially told the Voice of America that the victims had been caught in the crossfire as police searched the Ngagara neighborhood of northern Bujumbura for their kidnapped colleagues. Nkurikiye said the victims were killed by shots fired by the criminals who, he said, were trying to hide in houses.

The Burundian government set up a commission to investigate the incident, which in December 2015 issued a report claiming that Nkezabahizi and his family were killed by a group of young people who were also responsible for the attacks on the police, according to a summary of the findings published in a 2017 document from the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The government commission claimed that the attackers had observed Nkezabahizi filming their assault on the police officers and they wanted to prevent him from “broadcasting” these images, according to the same court documents and a 2015 statement issued by a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office.

However, 2015 media reports and research from Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, established by the United Nations Human Rights Council, and Human Rights Watch cited witnesses who contradicted this state narrative, saying that Nkezabahizi and his family were summarily executed by police officers. According to these sources, armed officers from the API unit, charged with protecting government institutions, raided several homes in Ngagara neighborhood, shooting weapons and threatening residents, claiming to be searching for those responsible for the attack on their colleagues.

At Nkezabahizi’s home, the journalist opened the gate and identified himself to a police officer as a cameraman for the state broadcaster, according to witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch and the Commission of Inquiry. The officer shot him dead at close range, according to the Commission of Inquiry report.

Nkezabahizi’s two teenaged children, wife, and a nephew were led outside the family property and also shot dead, according to the report. The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi also cited witnesses who said that Nkezabahizi may have been targeted, and that prior to the incident his employers at RTNB had asked him to submit recordings he had made of demonstrations. The report said that Nkezabahizi had told relatives he feared he was being followed, including on the date of the attack.

One witness told the UN’s Commission of Inquiry that she heard the leader of the team of police officers speak on a radio, just before Nkezabahizi and his family were murdered, saying “they are all here” and that this officer seemed to wait for instructions.

CPJ was unable to speak directly to any of the witnesses cited in the reports.