Florianne Irangabiye

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Journalist Florianne Irangabiye is detained in Muyinga Prison in northern Burundi and is accused of vague anti-state charges but has yet to be formally charged. The allegations against her stem from her work with Radio Igicaniro.

Irangabiye co-founded Radio Igicaniro, a Rwanda-based online outlet established by Burundian exiles and expatriates, in 2019, according to that outlet’s editor, Arsene Bitabuzi, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app and a report published on Facebook by the exiled Burundian news outlet Radio Publique Africaine (RPA).

Radio Igicaniro publishes critical commentary and analysis on Burundian politics, culture, and the human rights situation in the country via YouTube, where it has 840 subscribers,  SoundCloud, WhatsApp, and Facebook, according to Bitabuzi and CPJ’s review.

Irangabiye, who moved to Rwanda for work in 2009, hosts political debates on Radio Igicaniro and appears on programs as a commentator, according to a person familiar with her case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity citing fear of retaliation, Bitabuzi, and CPJ’s review of Igicaniro programming. In some Radio Igicaniro programming that CPJ reviewed, Irangabiye participated as a debate moderator, host, and commentator and criticized poor governance and human rights violations by Burundi’s government, and called for reform in the country.

In mid-August, Irangabiye traveled to visit family in Burundi, according to that person. On August 30, Irangabiye was going to a funeral with relatives in a vehicle from the capital, Bujumbura, to the southern town of Rutana when intelligence personnel stopped them and took Irangabiye into custody, that person and Bitabuzi said. 

Irangabiye was initially detained at the intelligence headquarters in Bujumbura, where she was denied access to family and legal counsel and interrogated about her work with Radio Igicaniro, which officers said supported opposition groups, that person said. 

Officials also accused Irangabiye of working with armed opposition groups and espionage, according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America 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 November 4 statement sent via messaging app, Sylvestre Nyandwi, Burundi’s prosecutor general, 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 without a lawyer, where officials again accused her of attacking the integrity of the state, but did not file formal charges, according to a report by RPA, and that person. 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 accused of anti-state crimes against Burundi and operating without journalist accreditation, according to person familiar with her case and a report by Radio Igicaniro. The person said the prosecutor requested more time to gather evidence and did not formally charge her.

Following a political crisis in Burundi in 2015, many journalists fled the country. The ones who ended up living in Rwanda turned that nation’s capital into a hub of exiled Burundian media, according to multiple media reports and CPJ documentation. The Burundian government has previously accused some of these journalists of anti-state criminal activities, including collaborating with rebels, according to media reports.  

Rwanda and Burundi began normalizing relations in 2020 after years of diplomatic difficulties, which accompanied increased pressure on exiled Burundian journalists, according to media reports

In 2021, journalists affiliated with exiled stations, including some based in Rwanda, were tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged complicity in a 2015 attempted coup, according to a VOA report. Three Rwanda-based stations reported they had been forced to suspend programming, according to media reports and Human Rights Watch.

Nyandwi told CPJ that Irangabiye’s ongoing pre-trial detention followed Burundi’s criminal procedure code, had been sanctioned by a judge, and authorities were waiting for a court to settle the matter.

CPJ calls and text and app messages to Pierre Nkurikiye, spokesperson of Burundi’s interior and public security ministry, did not receive an answer.