April 16, 2013
His Excellency, Pierre Nkurunziza
President of the Republic of Burundi
Via Email: [email protected]
Dear President Nkurunziza,
We are writing to bring to your attention restrictive amendments to Burundi's 2003 Press Law that were passed in the National Assembly on April 3. The bill will go before the Senate and if passed, will soon come to you for confirmation. We ask that you use the power of your office to reject this severely restrictive bill, thus reaffirming your government's commitment to press freedom.
We believe the bill is an affront to the Burundi Constitution, which proudly upholds freedom of expression. Burundi is also a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which gives its citizens the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These principles would be severely restricted by the amendments, which would grant the government broad powers to restrict news coverage and force journalists to reveal their sources. These measures severely inhibit the press from informing citizens about issues of public interest, such as corruption and security.
To support democracy and good governance in Burundi, the press must have the freedom to report, without fear of intimidation, on issues the government may not want to hear. We believe certain articles in particular violate Burundi's constitutional standards and international standards of freedom of expression:
Article 16 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.
Article 18 grants the state unchecked authority to ban publication of any information it deems detrimental based on broad concepts such as national security, public safety, morality, and the national economy.
Article 19 suspends the right to publish information in the public interest, giving the state total control to determine what information the public may receive regarding, among other things, national security, public safety, the economy, and anything that may undermine the honor of the state, the head of state, and public officials.
According to the bill, critical coverage of state security or the national economy could potentially lead to a maximum prison sentence of five years for a journalist and fines of up to 8 million Burundian Francs (more than US$5,000). Furthermore, the bill allows the state-run National Council for Communication to control news coverage by giving it the authority to issue press cards and accreditation to journalists wishing to cover events. The council already has a history of temporarily suspending news outlets in response to critical coverage, CPJ research shows.
Your Excellency, enactment of this legislation will erode the progress Burundi has made to foster a robust and independent news media, which is a critical precondition for an informed electorate and the development of a vibrant democracy. In the interests of strengthening development and respecting human rights in your country, we appeal to you to reject any attempts to pass this bill into law in its current form.
H.E. Thérence Sinunguruza, First Vice-President
Hon. Gabriel Ntisezerana, President, Senate
Hon. Pie Ntavyohanyuma, Speaker, National Assembly
Eduard Minani, Minister of Justice
Leocadie Nihazi, Information Minister
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Burundi
H.E. Pamela J. H. Slutz, Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Burundi
H.E. Jean Lamy, Ambassador of France to the Republic of Burundi
H.E. Marc Gedopt, Ambassador of Belgium to the Republic of Burundi
H.E. Jolke Oppewal, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Burundi
Stéphane De Loecker, head of the European Union Delegation to Burundi
Alexandre Niyungeko, President, Burundi Union of Journalists
Denise Mugugu, President, Maison de la Presse du Burundi
Pacifique Nininahazwe, Delegation General, Forum for the Reinforcement of Civil Society