The president has publicly attacked Esdras Ndikumana, a reporter for French public radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI), twice in the past two weeks, most recently at a meeting with young entrepreneurs in the east of the country on 31 August, when he accused Ndikumana of inflating the number of cases and using RFI to “promote poverty in the country.”
In a speech broadcast on 19 August by national radio and TV broadcaster RTNB and by Rema, a station that supports the ruling party, the president claimed that Ndikumana, who has lived in self-imposed exile for the past six years, “dreams of seeing Burundi sink into the abyss, seeing Burundians die and seeing Covid-19 assail us.”
President Ndayishimiye also referred to Antoine Kaburahe, the founder and editor of the online weekly Iwacu, as one of “the two journalists destroying our country” but he claimed that Kaburahe had “thought better of it” after “receiving our message.” Kaburahe also lives in self-imposed exile while Iwacu has repeatedly been harassed by the Burundian government since the political crisis in 2015.
One of Iwacu’s most experienced reporters, Jean Bigirimana, disappeared in July 2016 after he was last seen with Burundian intelligence officials. Four Iwacu journalists were arrested while reporting in the northwest of the country in October 2019 and were held for more than a year, until freed by a presidential pardon.
“We condemn these grave and dangerous statements, which are a sad reminder of press freedom’s fragility in Burundi,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Trying to make journalists act as government mouthpieces is not the best way to help their development. Instead, they should be allowed to do their job of informing the public and encouraging the authorities to take the best possible decisions. The work journalists do is absolutely essential during this pandemic. We urge the president to target the right enemy, to combat the pandemic instead of attacking journalists.”
The number of Covid-19 cases reported in Burundi in the past four weeks is a 208% increase on the previous four weeks. This is the biggest surge in the infection rate ever seen in Burundi.
Press freedom continues to be very fragile in Burundi despite the president’s promises to “normalise” relations with the media. Burundi is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.