Burundi: Sixty-five NGOs call for immediate release of journalists
On 22 October 2019, four Burundian journalists were arrested and convicted on charges against state security for simply doing their job. On the first anniversary of their arrest, several organizations including TRIAL International are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalists. Their prolonged 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.
Following a trial that violated fair trial standards, the four journalists were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and a heavy fine. 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 in the country. This conviction and the continued detention of the four journalists also runs counter to Burundi’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, and the country’s regional and international obligations. It is particularly inconsistent with the African Commission’s principles on access to information, which prohibit states from “arbitrarily arresting and detaining” journalists.
Hundreds of journalists and human rights defenders have fled Burundi since the start of the political crisis in 2015. Those who still live and work in the country often face threats and harassment. The release of the four journalists, Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi, would be an important first step towards reopening the civic space.