Reporters Without Borders appeals to the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza to call a halt to the intensified efforts to intimidate privately-owned media organizations in Burundi, which have been subjected to daily summonses and cautions.
The organizations that have been singled out are Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and the stations Isanganiro and Bonesha FM. Those victimised are managers, news editors and journalists such as Eric Manirakiza, Bob Rugurika, Vincent Nkeshimana, Patrick Mitabaro, Patrick Nduwimana among others.
At least two ministers are in the forefront of the moves against these organizations. Two days ago the interior minister, Edouard Nduwimana, openly accused RPA of “incitement to disobedience and hatred”.
The communications minister, Concilie Nibigira, accused TV Renaissance as well as RPA, Bonesha FM and Isanganiro of endangering public order and the peace today by calling on motorists to toot their horns for 15 seconds from 12:20 p.m.
Referring to the investigation into the massacre in Gatumba on 18 September, she added that “anyone who publishes in the media or by other means any part of a pre-trial file will be liable to the application of article 11 of the 2003 law governing the press in Burundi.”
The minister concluded by appealing to the press to “avoid any escalation, otherwise you will be required to bear the consequences in accordance with the relevant provisions of the criminal code”.
Reporters Without Borders said: “In Burundi, journalists and managers in privately-owned media who try to express themselves freely and investigate sensitive issues are subjected to an appalling campaign of intimidation, symbolised by these continual summonses. The fight against discouragement has become their challenge.
“The frequency of attacks on press freedom, already worrying last year, has increased since the massacre in Gatumba at the end of September and they have become almost daily in recent days.
“In this war of nerves being waged against them by the Burundian authorities, these journalists can count on our support.
“We call on the authorities, as has the head of the European Union delegation in Bujumbura, to allow the media and civil society to fulfil their role.
“We also urge them to ensure complete transparency in the investigation into the Gatumba massacre.”
Bob Rugurika, news editor of RPA radio, and its journalist Bonfils Niyongere, were questioned for some 12 hours at the public prosecutor’s office two days ago. This was understood to be linked to RPA’s broadcast of information about the Gatumba massacre, in which 39 people were killed and 40 wounded in the village of Mutumbuzi.
The authorities imposed a media blackout on the killings. The two journalists concerned have received a new summons for 18 November.
The managers of three privately-owned radio stations, Patrick Nduwimana of Bonesha FM, Eric Manirakiza of RPA and Vincent Nkeshimana of Isanganiro, were summoned by the public prosecutor on 10 November and asked to provide documentation on their status, internal rules and regulations and proof of funding for their radio stations.
All of them rejected the demands by the prosecutor who gave no justification for the summonses and requests.
A day earlier, the news editor of the station Isanganiro, Patrick Mitabaro, was also summoned. On 8 November it was RPA’s Rugurika and Nduwimana, news editor of Bonesha FM, who had to attend the Bujumbura prosecutor’s office.
The radio stations were rebuked for having broadcast information about the Gatumba massacre, including a telephone account by the main accused Innocent Ngendakuriyo, known as Nzarabu, from Bubanza prison.
These elements of the story were believed to have leaked out despite a government statement on 21 September banning the media from commenting in any way on the investigation pending publication of the official report.
On 6 November, Niyongere of RPA was arrested on the Mutanga campus of Burundi University by the security officer, who tried to question him using force. The journalist finally managed to escape thanks to the intervention of his news editor Rugurika who went to his assistance.
In an incident of a different kind, yet illustrative of the abhorrent attitude to journalists, Audace Nimbona, a correspondent of Bonesha FM radio and the agency Syfia Grands Lacs in the northern town of Ngozi, had stones thrown at him by unidentified people on 5 November. He escaped but found a cross left outside his front door the next morning.
Picture : President Pierre Nkurunziza (EANA / The Citizen)