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Burundi

Key Developments

» New media law severely curtails press freedom.

» Prominent reporter is freed after spending 463 days in prison.

Burundi's climate of press freedom deteriorated under President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2013. In June, the president signed into law a severely restrictive bill that forces journalists to reveal sources and places heavy fines and prison sentences on coverage the government considers detrimental to state security or the local economy. In April, CPJ wrote an open letter to the president, calling the law an "affront to the Burundi Constitution," and highlighting specific articles especially restrictive for journalists. Several journalists were attacked over the year, some by police officers attempting to quell a weekly protest by reporters calling for the release of their imprisoned colleague, Bonesha FM correspondent Hassan Ruvakuki. In March, Ruvakuki was released from prison with no explanation. He had been sentenced to prison in November 2011 for "participating with a criminal group" and spent 463 days in jail.



  • 4

    Anti-press attacks
  • 5

    Years in jail
  • 463

    Days in prison
  • 1.2%

    Internet penetration
 

At least four journalists reported being physically attacked over the year by assailants they suspected were related to government forces. The attacks occurred in a three-month span.


Breakdown of attacks:

February 17, 2013:

Bonesha FM reporter Alexis Nibasumba was attacked while covering a local election and sought medical treatment for a head injury, according to the journalist. Local journalists said they suspected the attack was in connection with Bonesha FM's critical stance toward the government.

February 19, 2013:

Police physically attacked and fired tear gas at journalists demonstrating peacefully for the release of their imprisoned colleague, Hassan Ruvakuki. The Bonesha FM and Radio France Internationale correspondent had been jailed since November 2011. He was released in March 2013.

March 27, 2013:

Patrick Niyonkuru, reporter for Radio Publique Africaine, was shot in the arm and beaten while trying to interview street vendors who claimed they were being forced to pay bribes to the police in the capital. The journalist sought treatment at a local hospital for his injuries. Authorities arrested Pierre Havyarimana, a police officer, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for the attack on Niyonkuru, Bob Rugurika, RPA's chief editor, told CPJ.

April 25, 2013:

Assailants raided the house of Radio Television Renaissance reporter Willy Abagenzinikindi at 1:30 a.m., forced him to the floor, and seized audio tapes he had used for an interview on public opinion of a recently passed media law, he said. The men, armed with AK-47s and machetes, hit Abagenzinikindi three times with a machete on his left hand before leaving with tapes, his wallet, and cellphones. Abagenzinikindi fled the country a month later, according to local journalists.
 

Violation of the restrictive amendments in Burundi's Press Law carry a maximum of five years' imprisonment for journalists, fines of 8 million Burundi francs (US$5,198), and indefinite suspension of news outlets.

The law grants the state unchecked authority to ban publication of any information it deems detrimental to national security, public safety, morality, and the national economy. The law also allows the state to control news coverage by giving it the authority to issue press cards and accreditation to journalists, according to CPJ research.

CPJ called on the president in April to reject the bill, saying that certain articles violate Burundi's constitution and international standards of freedom of expression. Two months later, President Nkurunziza signed the bill into law.


Three restrictive articles in the new media law:

Article 18

obliges journalists to refrain from publishing anything the state considers detrimental based on broad concepts such as national unity, public safety, morality, and honor and dignity.

Article 19

suspends the right to publish information in the public interest, giving the state sole determination of what information the public may receive regarding, among other things, national security, the national economy, and anything that may be considered offensive to the head of state, public and public persons.

Article 20

forces journalists to disclose their sources to authorities when reporting on threats to public order, national security, or "the moral and physical integrity of one or more persons." This article would send a chilling warning to any citizen who wishes to expose corruption or express a different point of view through the media: that their identity could not be protected.
 

Authorities released Hassan Ruvakuki from prison on March 6, 2013, after the journalist spent 463 days in prison on charges of "participating with a criminal group."

Ruvakuki, correspondent for Bonesha FM and Radio France Internationale, was arrested on November 28, 2011, after conducting an interview with a rebel leader in Tanzania. He was originally sentenced to life in prison for "participating in terrorist acts," but the sentence was reduced at a January appeal to three years in prison.

Authorities did not disclose a reason for Ruvakuki's early release.

Ruvakuki's imprisonment drew considerable outcry both domestically and internationally. Burundian journalists held weekly demonstrations in protest of his imprisonment, while several international organizations, including CPJ, sought his release.

 

Burundi has the lowest Internet penetration rate in East Africa at 1.2 percent, trailing far behind its neighbor Rwanda, at 8 percent, according to the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU.

Regional rates of Internet penetration, according to the ITU:



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