Reporters Without Borders is worried by influential presidential media adviser Willy Nyamitwe’s scarcely veiled threats against Radio Télé Renaissance director Innocent Muhozi, one of the few media owners still in Burundi after privately-owned radio stations were closed down last month.
In the course of speculative comments in an article published Tuesday via his Twitter account, Nyamitwe accused of Muhozi of conniving with Gen. Godefroid Niyombare’s abortive coup attempt on 13 May.
When Muhozi was summoned before the supreme court on 22 May to explain his actions on the day of the coup, he persuaded the court that the nature of his contacts with the rebel general were purely journalistic in nature.
“No charges were brought against Muhozi after his court appearance so why reopen the debate and voice such mendacious allegations now?” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“This article is an obvious attempt to intimidate and silence one of the few media owners still in Burundi. It would more helpful if the presidential media adviser were to concentrate on reviving the media by allowing them to reopen instead of trying to discredit those that are still trying to report the news.”
“Mr. Nyamitwe’s accusations are ancient history,” Muhozi told Reporters Without Borders. “Maybe I annoy him because I continue to talk without hiding. I give interviews to international media and my crews continue to go out, to try to work and to report what is going on. Yesterday’s article obviously worries me because I know how much influence Willy Nyamitwe has.”
Muhozi added: “I think those in power don’t want people to know what is happening, so it bothers them when someone talks. Every evening people are being kidnapped from their homes in police raids. This is a situation of terror that affects the entire population.”
In such circumstances, it is clearly very difficult for journalists to work. Those trying to work are regularly exposed to beatings, teargas grenades and police threats.
Two reporters for international media were roughed up by police in the northwestern city of Bubanza onTuesday when they tried to interview the relatives of people who had been abducted during the night. Such methods are increasingly used to intimidate reporters and those ready to talk to them.
In recent weeks, the police have refused to let reporters through a roadblock to reach a troubled neighbourhood in Bujumbura, which the police call a war zone. When some journalists tried to insist on their right to visit the district, a police officer fired shots in the air. Other policemen like to tell reporters that not enough journalists have been killed since the start of the crisis.
“What is really dangerous is that this kind of attitude is becoming widespread, and that being beaten or intimidated is now becoming routine for journalists,” Muhozi said.
Ever fewer news outlets
The international radio stations still broadcasting are now the only source of news for the public. Social networks are still operating and are being used by journalists to communicate with each other. Unfortunately, in the absence of professional media, they are also being use to spread rumours.
The clampdown on the media is almost total as result of the closure of privately-owned radio stations in mid-May, the mass exodus of journalists and the constant threats against those still in Burundi. The state-owned national radio station has not been spared either. Some of its journalists are also being pressured.
Muhozi added: “We are a very poor people. The only thing we had in Burundi was a degree of freedom of expression and freedom of the press that the authorities cited all the time in order to justify a so-called positive assessment of the situation. What will they cite now?”
Click here for more information about Burundi, which is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Innocent Muhozi à la sortie de son audience, Photo : IWACU
Innocent Muhozi, Photo : Johan Ripås