On 8 October, a court in the central city of Gitega is to begin hearing radio journalist Hassan Ruvakuki's appeal against his conviction on a charge of "participating in a terrorist act," for which he received a life sentence last June. Reporters Without Borders will send a representative to Gitega to attend the hearings and has learned that several foreign diplomats based in the capital, Bujumbura, also plan to travel to Gitega for the same purpose.
"We are pleased that the international community has finally decided to follow this case closely," Reporters Without Borders said. "This show of interest has been slow in coming and it is now high time to provide clear support for this journalist, whose innocence must be recognized."
A reporter for Bonesha FM and Radio France Internationale’s Swahili service, Ruvakuki has been jailed since December 2011 – more than 10 months.
"Ruvakuki is a journalist who was just doing his job when he was arrested," Reporters Without Borders added. "His lawyers, Onésime Kabayabaya and Fabien Segatwa, have to show that he did not get a fair trial and that covering a rebel movement is not the same as participating in it. These appeal proceedings will be a real test of media freedom in Burundi."
Two representatives of Audiovisuel Extérieur de la France (AEF), the French foreign broadcasting agency, have just visited Bujumbura for a series of meetings with the Burundian authorities about the case. One of them visited Ruvakuki in the prison where he is being held in Muramvya, a central province adjoining Gitega province.
In a letter written in his prison cell, a copy of which has been obtained by Reporters Without Borders, Ruvakuki says:
"By going to Tanzania, to a Burundian rebel camp, I was just doing my job as a journalist. It was the first time I had gone to Tanzania and I have never belonged to any political party, let alone an armed movement. Like any journalist anywhere in the world, I just went to verify, on the ground, the truth of some information which I was the first to know (...) Now I would just like to cry out to the world that I am innocent (...) Again, I am innocent and I have faith in the justice system."
More information about this case.
Photo : Hassan Ruvakuki (RFI)