Woman journalist held in Burundi facing possible life sentence

Sandra Muhoza journaliste Burundi liberté presse Bujumbura

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of a Burundian journalist who was arrested on 12 April and is facing a possible life sentence on a state security charge for comments she made on a WhatsApp channel reserved for journalists.

La Nova Burundi news site reporter Sandra Muhoza was charged with “endangering state security and ethnic loathing” when she was brought before a judge in the capital, Bujumbura, on 22 April. No date has been set for her trial.

Arrested on 12 April in her hometown, Ngozi, 100 km northeast of the capital, she was taken to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (SNR) in Bujumbura the next day and was held there for five days before being transferred on 18 April to Bujumbura‘s Mpimba prison, where she continues to be held.

According to the information obtained by RSF, she is charged in connection with a comment posted on a WhatsApp group for journalists about a matter implicating persons within the government. She was not even investigating this matter, which was also relayed by another media outlet that subsequently withdrew its story.

"This is an alarming and incomprehensible situation. For several days, the reasons for Sandra Muhoza's arrest remained unknown. We now know that she is facing a possible life sentence. As with Floriane Irangabiye, the charge of endangering internal security is being used to silence a journalist who could damage the government’s image. She was not even investigating the case she spoke about within a private group of journalists, and which has now led to her imprisonment. This arrest is completely arbitrary. The authorities must drop the charges against her and release her immediately.

Sadibou Marong
Director of RSF’s Sub-Saharan Africa bureau

Muhoza’s family and lawyer told RSF that, on the WhatsApp private discussion channel for journalists, she said she was aware of reports that the CNDD-FDD ruling party was distributing machetes to its young activists, known as the Imbonerakure, throughout the country.

A few days later, on 12 April, she accepted an invitation from a wealthy businessman with links to the SNR intelligence agency to interview him about his avocado business at his warehouse in Ngozi. Arrested by the head of the SNR office in Ngozi, she was transferred the next day to Bujumbura.

After 24 hours without news from her, Muhoza's family received a text message from her phone reporting that she was being held at SNR headquarters in Bujumbura and asking them to bring clothes and a toiletry bag. She had spent the night in a cell at the judicial police bureau in Ngozi before being moved to the capital.

Second woman journalist jailed in Africa

Muhoza could be the second woman journalist to be imprisoned in Burundi – and in Africa. Floriane Irangabiye was sentenced to ten years in prison in January 2023 after being convicted of “undermining the internal security of the national territory” in her radio show for online radio Igicaniro that was broadcast from neighbouring Rwanda. She is the only woman journalist currently serving a prison sentence in Africa.

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