Jean Bigirimana, a reporter with the independent weekly newspaper Iwacu, formerly with the pro-government radio station Rema FM, left his home in the capital Bujumbura around lunch time on July 22, 2016, after receiving a phone call from a source in the country’s national intelligence service, Iwacu reported. He has not been seen or heard from since.
The Associated Press, citing Bigirimana’s wife, reported that the journalist was arrested by the National Intelligence Service and that his family fears he is dead. Godeberthe Hakizimana told The Associated Press that her husband left home for Bugaramana in the central province of Muramvya. He did not return despite saying that he would be back for dinner, Iwacu reported.
CPJ was unable to independently confirm that the journalist was arrested. However, Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of abductions, arrests, torture, and killings of civil society activists, journalists, and others by government forces, armed opposition groups, and unknown assailants since April 2015, when protests broke out in response to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term. CPJ is aware of at least 100 journalists who have fled Burundi since the mass protests of April 2015 and the ensuing violence.
Bigirimana’s disappearance came a few weeks after his return from Rwanda, where he had attended a journalism training course, the AP reported.
Iwacu reported on its website that it had received a call from a person claiming to be a "friend of the journalist" who reported that Bigirimana was detained by intelligence agents. Iwacu said that Bigirimana was accused of having shuttled between Burundi and neighboring Rwanda and of having written an article on the life of exiled Burundian journalists living in that country.
CPJ’s calls and text messages to the journalist’s wife went unanswered. Police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye did not return CPJ’s phone calls seeking comment. CPJ’s phone calls to Minister of Information Nestor Bankumukunzi went unanswered. The president of the National Council of Communication, Karenga Ramadhan, a former minister of information, told CPJ via WhatsApp on July 29 that his deputy would respond to an inquiry, but CPJ received no further communication or responses to further messages.
Iwacu’s director, Antoine Kaburahe, who lives in exile, told CPJ that Jean-Baptiste Baribonekeza, president of Burundi’s National Human Rights Commission, had visited the area where Iwacu’s sources alleged that Bigirimana was abducted and detained by intelligence agents. Baribonekeza returned to the capital on August 3 but cancelled a scheduled press conference about Bigirimana, saying he was still investigating the matter. "He called me to say the commission is still verifying information," Kaburahe said.
Baribonekeza did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls seeking information.