Letters   |   Burundi

Burundi must free Kavumbagu, halt flawed prosecution

Hon. Ancilla Ntakaburimvo
Minister of Justice
Republic of Burundi
Bujumbura, Burundi

Via facsimile: (257) 22 21 86 10

Dear Minister Ancilla Ntakaburimvo,

We urge you to intervene in the case of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of the news website NetPress who has been improperly imprisoned since July 17, 2010, on a charge of treason. We call on you to urge the state prosecutor to drop the pending charge against Kavumbagu and secure his release.

The government has jailed Kavumbagu for publishing an opinion column critical of Burundi's security forces, basing its treason charge on Article 570 of the criminal code, which is applicable to civilians only in times of war. In an appeals court hearing in November, a state prosecutor acknowledged that the applicable wartime conditions do not exist, according to defense lawyer Gabriel Sinarinzi.

The injustice is compounded by use of another, inapplicable criminal code provision. The prosecution has based Kavumbagu's pretrial imprisonment under a separate, preventive detention clause of the criminal code, which is applicable when a defendant has a history of violating bail conditions. Kavumabgu has no such history.

Your office has an opportunity to end this flawed prosecution when Kavumbagu appears in court for a hearing on Wednesday.

CPJ representatives visited Kavumbagu at Mpimba Prison in Bujumbura in December 2010. He has now spent nine months in custody. In a meeting with CPJ, First Vice President Therence Sinunguruza and Information Minister Concilie Nibigira expressed their interest in the release of Kavumbagu. Although the First Vice President Sinunguruza declined to comment on the specifics of Kavumbagu's case, he acknowledged to CPJ that the proceedings have run contrary to Burundian law.

Burundi is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa currently jailing a journalist on treason charges. According to your country's official National Consultations, released in December, the majority of Burundians support press freedom and the decriminalization of press offenses. Our research shows that press freedom conditions have improved somewhat over the past five years, but the ongoing detention of Kavumbagu tarnishes these gains.

CPJ calls on your office to use its authority to correct the injustice in this case and set Jean-Claude Kavumbagu free without delay. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

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