Burundi: Media Ban Enacted, Journalist Still Missing
On November 28, Burundian radio reporter Hassan Ravakuki was arrested by security agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR). He is being held incommunicado, after what Reporters Without Borders called “an abduction style arrest.” Ravakuki was charged with terrorism and his current whereabouts and condition are unknown. His home was searched and documents belonging to him were confiscated without warrant.
Télesphore Bigirimana, a spokesperson for SNR said in an official statement that, “[Ravakuki] has been arrested along with other people, not as a journalist but as an individual, for the purposes of investigation. He is suspected of helping a rebel group. If he is innocent, I am sure he will be released quickly.”
Rabakuki is employed by Bonesha FM and the Swahili service of Radio France Internationale. On November 25 Bonesha FM aired an interview with Pierre Claver Kabirigi, the self-identified commander of the new rebel group Front for the Restoration of Democracy-Abanyagihugu, formed in reaction to corruption and extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by the ruling party.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists, several days after the Kabirigi interview was broadcast, the state-run National Council for Communication issued an open-ended media ban on all news coverage of the rebel group. It was the second open-ended ban to be issued since September.
“Rabakuki’s arrest is part of a pattern of state-orchestrated intimidation of private media,” said Tom Rhodes, the East African consultant to CPJ. “Authorities have presented no evidence against Hassan Ruvakuki and he should be released immediately.”
A Growing Trend
Ravakuki’s arrest was one incident in a growing trend of media intimidation in Burundi. In 2010, two independent journalists were arrested: Jean Claude Kavumbagu was charged with treason for questioning the country’s ability to respond to an attack by Islamist militants. Thierry Ndayishimiye, the editor in chief of the Burundi weekly Arc-en-ciel, was accused of defamation and jailed in August 2010 for exposing corruption. A third, Eric Manirakiza, the director of Radio Publique Africaine, went into temporary exile in September of 2010 after he and his family received death threats.
“What is happening now shows clearly that the powerful people are hunting down journalists, to scare the Burundi press, which is known for its courage and determination in rooting out corruption,” Ndayishimiye’s lawyer said to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
Criticism of the government, topics dealing with mass violence in post-conflict Burundi (such as the September 18 Gatumba massacre in which at least 30 were reported dead) and accusations of corruption are officially off-limits under President Pierre Nkurunziza’s leadership.
In an October 6 statement, Amnesty International wrote, “This media blackout severely curtails freedom of expression. It follows repeated judicial summonses and intimidation of prominent journalists and civil society activists over recent months.”