Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the requests made Tuesday by Burundi’s supreme court for the extradition of seven Burundian journalist for alleged complicity in a coup attempt on 13 May 2015, before they fled to neighbouring countries.
In a communiqué addressed to the international community, the court described the seven journalists, who worked for the country’s most prominent media outlets, as “putschists” and “insurgent allies” and called on the host countries to arrest them and deliver them to Burundi’s judicial authorities.
The seven include the directors of four privately-owned news radio stations: Innocent Muhozi of Radio-Télé Renaissance, Bob Rugurika, of Radio publique africaine (RPA), Anne Niyuhire of Radio Isanganiro and Patrick Nduwimana of Bonesha FM. The other three are Isanganiro reporters Patrick Mitabaro and Arcade Havyarimana and RPA reporter Gilbert Niyonkuru.
“The arrest warrants already existed but this communiqué constitutes yet further evidence of the determination being displayed by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government to continue persecuting independent media that do not support it,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.
“This is a witchhunt against journalists and media owners who just did their job by broadcasting information in the public interest. The government is rejecting any peacekeeping mission and insists the situation is normal. But what kind of normality accepts the disappearance of all independent media? We call on the government to show good faith by ending this judicial persecution and by allowing all these radio stations to resume working freely.”
Some of these radio stations angered the government during the abortive coup attempt in May by broadcasting the messages of the army officers staging the coup.
The radios defended their action on the grounds that they were providing information of interest to the public. Some of the other radio stations tried to reach the putschists in order to get comments from them, which was an entirely legitimate action for journalists to take.
Prior to the attempted coup, the government had already begun to gag the media in response to the massive street demonstrations in protest against the president’s decision to run for a third term. The authorities had already disconnected the transmitters of the main privately-owned radio stations and those of Radio France Internationale broadcasting outside the capital.
Burundi is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 press freedom index. As a result of the arbitrary closure of news media and persecution of journalists since the start of the political crisis in 2015, Burundi is unlikely to hold this position in the 2016 press freedom index.
For more information about violations of media freedom in Burundi, click here.
Photo: Agnes Bagiricenge, Secretary general of the Supreme Court, burundi-agnews.org