Reporters Without Borders

 Radio journalists repeatedly summoned, fuelling hostile climate for media freedom

Radio journalists repeatedly summoned, fuelling hostile climate for media freedom

Published on Friday 29 July 2011.
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Reporters Without Borders condemns the harassment of two privately-owned radio stations, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and Radio Isanganiro, in the form of a series of summonses, one of the latest of which was a summons to RPA news editor Bob Rugurika to appear before the Bujumbura main court prosecutor’s office today, his third summons in the past 11 days. In the event, today’s hearing was postponed until 1 August because of a lawyers’ strike.

Two other RPA journalists at its regional bureau in the northern city of Ngozi, bureau chief Léonce Niyongabo and reporter Yvette Murekesabe, were summoned by a Ngozi prosecutor today for the purposes of “judicial investigation” and will be questioned again on 1 August. Radio Isanganiro news editor Patrick Mitabaro has been summoned by the Bujumbura prosecutor’s office on 1 August for “judicial investigation.”

These summonses follow recent warnings from the National Council for Communication (CNC) to both radio stations about content that was also broadcast by other stations.

“Repeated judicial summonses and warnings by the CNC constitute harassment and intimidation of privately-owned media and fuel a climate of hostility to media freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “RPA and Radio Isanganiro, which are critical of the government, are being singled out by the authorities. Other stations that have covered the same stories have been left in peace by the CNC. We urge the authorities to let these media and their journalists work freely.”

RPA news editor singled out by prosecutors

Rugurika was questioned for an hour on 18 July by the state prosecutor over a report about an open letter which the spokesman of the opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), Pancrace Cimpaye, who is currently in exile, addressed to the president on 23 June. RPA said the prosecutor had described the station’s report as “insult to the state.”

Rugurika was also criticised for a report quoting passages from a speech by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on 13 June in which she referred to the Arab Spring. The prosecutor regarded the report as “inciting a popular revolt.”

Rugurika received a second summons two days later, on 20 July. This time he was questioned about his coverage of a news conference that Chauvineau Mugwengezo, the spokesman of the opposition Alliance of Democrats for Change (ADC-Ikibiri), gave on 13 July to criticize hikes in water and electricity tariffs.

Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about the third summons (now rescheduled for 1 August), as it has learned that Rugurika’s lawyer, François Nyamoya, was arrested yesterday for as yet unclear reasons. No charges have so far been brought against Rugurika but the court has announced that it has opened a case against him.

The CNC has meanwhile issued several warnings to the RPA. The latest was on 23 July, when it gave a news conference to call RPA to order for “inciting ethnic hatred and blaming personalities” because it had cited a 1996 UN report (S/1996/682) containing information that reflected badly on come of the people appointed by the president to prepare a truth and reconciliation commission.

Regional correspondents targeted by judicial investigations

When Niyongabo and Murekesabe appeared before the Ngozi deputy prosecutor today, they were questioned about a report concerning Ciza Pascal, a member of the Burundian intelligence service. They will take a recording of the report when they return for further questioning on 1 August.

Two months ago, on 25 May, the RPA correspondent in the northwestern city of Bubanza, Eloge Niyonzima, was questioned by provincial state prosecutor Didier Nibizi Simbizi in response to a complaint by the head of the Imbo Coffee Company, Nyandwi Anselme, over an RPA report about an attack by gunmen on the company’s plant. Niyonzima was not charged.

Four RPA journalists – Raymon Zirampaye, Domithile Kiramvu, Bonfils Niyongere and Philbert Musobozi – are meanwhile still the target of a prosecution by Bujumbura mayor Evrard Giswaswa over allegedly insulting reports about a brawl last year in which the mayor was reportedly involved. The latest hearing in the case was due to be held on 26 July, but was postponed.

Other targeted stations

Mitabaro, Radio Isanganiro’s news editor, thinks his summons for “judicial investigation” on 1 August could be linked to an interview in which the head of the bar association, Isidore Rufikiri, referred to certain judges as “sub-humans” for constantly jailing people at the behest of the prosecutor’s office. Rufikiri was arrested on 27 July. The station also received a letter of warning from the CNC on 27 July about a report broadcast two days before.

The international media are also subject to this kind of intimidation. Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent Esdras Ndikumana was interrogated by the Bujumbura main court state prosecutor on 19 July. Ndikumana had covered the arrest of a lawyer, Suzanne Bukuru, on a charge of “complicity in espionage” for helping a crew from the French TV station M6 do a story about Patrice Faye, a French citizen accused of raping minors.

After questioning Ndikumana about his report, the prosecutor confiscated his mobile phone for several hours. He also asked Ndikumana to remain available for further questioning.

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