Pressures on freedom of expression increase as elections approach
(Nairobi) The authorities of Burundi should immediately and unconditionally release four journalists and their driver arrested on 22 October 2019 while reporting on the Iwacu newspaper in Bubanza province.
The journalists had informed the authorities of their intention to travel to the area to report clashes between Burundian security forces and a group of attackers. But a chief of police operations arrested them while they were doing their job, Iwacu said on his website.
“Journalists play a vital role in shedding light on issues of public interest and should not be pursued for the work they do legitimately”, said Lewis Mudge , director for Central Africa to Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should reverse the current trend of repression against the freedom of the press and, at first, release these journalists and their driver arrested without delay while they are doing their job.”
In the run-up to the 2020 elections, it is very worrying that the government is continuing its crackdown on the media and preventing journalists from doing their job, Human Rights Watch said.
Since the morning of 22 October, social networks and several media outlets in exile have shared reports of clashes near the Kibira Nature Reserve in Bubanza province, where the journalists were going. The rebel group RED-Tabara (Resistance Movement for the Rule of Law in Burundi), created in 2016 and operating in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter .
According to a report by SOS Medias Burundi , the administration and security forces confirmed that 20 people had been kidnapped then released and that a policeman had been killed. The Ministry of Public Security said in a tweet that 14 “criminals” had been killed.
The four journalists Christine Kamikazi, AgnAs Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana and Terence Mpozenzi and their driver were arrested in Musigati around noon and are currently detained at the Bubanza police station. On 23 October, they were interrogated by a police officer at the police station in the presence of their lawyer. According to Iwacu , they have not yet been charged.
The CNIDH, the independent National Commission for Human Rights, a pro-government body , told Iwacu that it is currently reviewing the issue.
Government pressure on the media has recently increased. The National Council of Communication (CNC) suspended the Voice of America (VOA) in May 2018 and renewed the suspension in March. In March, it also withdrew the license of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which closed its offices in Burundi in July. These draconian measures are part of a series of government attempts to stop the rest of the world from witnessing the serious human rights violations taking place in Burundi.
The suspensions of the BBC and VOA were decided several weeks before the holding of a controversial constitutional referendum in 2018. They also prohibited any Burundian journalist from “directly or indirectly providing information that could be broadcast” by the BBC or the VOA.
A few weeks earlier, the CNC had suspended Iwacu ‘ s online comment section . Human Rights Watch found that the Burundian security services and members of the ruling youth league had killed, raped, kidnapped, beaten and intimidated several suspected opponents in the months leading up to the referendum.
Many Burundians have disappeared since the beginning of the political crisis in Burundi in April 2015, following the decision of President Pierre Nkurunziza to seek a third term. In many cases, the authorities make no effort to identify missing persons or to investigate when bodies are found. The few independent journalists remaining in Burundi risk their lives to expose the truth , Human Rights Watch said.
Jean Bigirimana, a journalist in Iwacu , has been missing since July 2016. Unconfirmed reports indicate that intelligence officials arrested Bigirimana in Bugarama. Many other journalists are currently in exile.
Source: Human Rights Watch