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Burundi: Sixty-five organizations call for the immediate release of Iwacu journalists

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On the first anniversary of their arrest, 65 organizations call for immediate and
unconditional release of the Iwacu journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi who were convicted on charges against state security for simply doing their job.

Their continued detention on baseless charges is a stark reminder that, despite a recent change in leadership, the Burundian government has little tolerance for independent journalism and free speech, the organizations said.

On 22 October 2019, the four journalists were arrested along with their driver
Adolphe Masabarakiza as they went to report on clashes between the security
forces and an armed group in Bubanza province. Although they had informed the
provincial authorities of their plan to travel to the area, they were arrested on
arrival and later accused of threatening internal state security. However, during
the trial, the prosecution presented no evidence of the journalists having any
contact with the armed group.

Although they were charged with complicity in threatening the internal security of
the state, Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi were ultimately
Convicted of attempting to commit the crime, a lesser criminal offense. Their lawyers say that they were not informed of the change to the charge prior to the verdict or allowed to defend themselves against it in court, violating fair trial standards. All four were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined one million Burundian francs (approximately 525 USD). Masabarakiza, who had been provisionally released in November 2019, was acquitted. Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi appealed their conviction, but in its 4 June decision, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.

The message sent by the courts is an attempt to intimidate and threaten other
journalists from doing their work and reporting on what is happening inside the
Country, the organizations said. The conviction and continued detention of the
four journalists also run counter to Burundi’s constitutional guarantees on
freedom of expression, as well as regional and international obligations in
accordance with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It is particularly inconsistent with the African Commission’s 2019 Declaration of
Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which specifically
provides that states shall take measures to prevent “arbitrary arrest and
detention” of journalists.

Iwacu is one of the few remaining independent media houses operational in
Burundi. Hundreds of journalists and human rights defenders have fled the
country since the start of the political crisis in 2015 and those still working in the
country often face threats and harassment. Releasing Ndirubusa, Kamikazi,
Harerimana and Mpozenzi would be an important first step towards reopening
civic space and recognizing the contribution of reliable media reporting in ensuring access to information for all Burundians.

Signatories:

  1. ACAT-Burundi (Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa
  4. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des
    Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
  5. Association des journalistes indépendants du Bénin
  6. Bloggers Association of Kenya
  7. Burundi Human Rights Initiative
  8. Cellule Norbert Zongo pour le journalisme d’investigation en Afrique de l’Ouest
  9. Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy
    10.CNCD-11.11.11
    11.Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme
    12.Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
    13.Coalition de la Société Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME)
    14.Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa
    (CIPESA)
    15.Collectif des Avocats pour la défense des victimes de crimes de droit
    international commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
    16.Committee to Protect Journalists
    17.Community Empowerment for Progress Organization-CEPO, South Sudan
    18.Congress of African Journalists
    19.Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
    20.Defend Defenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    21.Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
    22.European Network for Central Africa (EurAc)
    23.Fédération internationale des ACAT (FIACAT)
    24.Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)
    25.Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ)
    26.FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights
    Defenders
    27.Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
    28.Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC)
    29.The Ghanaian PEN Centre
    30.Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda
    31.Human Rights Watch
    32.International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    33.Kenya Correspondents Association
    34.Kenya Editors’ Guild
    35.Kenya Union of Journalists
    36.Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative (LRAI)
    37.Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka
    38.Ligue des journalistes Tchadiens (LJT)
    39.La Maison de la presse du Niger
    40.Media Council of Tanzania
    41.Media Institute of Southern Africa
    42.Mouvement des Femmes et Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité au Burundi
    (MFFPS)
    43.Mouvement Inamahoro Femmes & Filles pour la Paix & la Securite
    44.National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda
    45.Observatoire de la lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques
    (OLUCOME)
    46.Ökumenisches Netz Zentralafrika (ÖNZ)
    47.One Day Seyoum
    48.OpenNet Africa
    49.Organisation Patronale des Médias du Gabon (OPAM)
    50.Paradigm Initiative
    51.PEN International
    52.PEN Nigeria
    53.PEN South Africa
    54.PEN Zimbabwe
    55.Reporters sans Frontières (RSF)
    56.Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
    57.SOS-Torture/Burundi
    58.Syndicat National des Journalistes Indépendants du Togo (SYNJIT)
    59.Syndicat Professionnels Information Communication Sénégal (Synpics)
    60.Tournons la Page – Burundi
    61.Tournons la Page International
    62.TRIAL International
    63.Ugandan PEN
    64.Union Burundaise des Journalistes
    65.World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the
    Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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