Burundi Gives Life Sentence to Journalist for “Terrorism”
A Burundi court’s decision to sentence a journalist to life in prison on terrorism charges for simply interviewing an alleged terrorist shows a flagrant disregard for press freedom and sets a dangerous precedent in a country already hostile toward the media.
Hassan Ruvakuki, a reporter for Radio France International (RFI), was arrested in November 2011 after leaving the country to interview the leader of a Burundian rebel militant group based in neighboring Tanzania that later launched an armed attack on a town in Burundi. The prosecution argued that this amounted to complicity in the attack, according to Reuters. Ruvakuki denied the charges and plans to appeal. Freedom House calls on Burundi to ensure a fair and speedy appeals process, and urges officials to uphold the freedom of the press by letting journalists do their jobs without fear of harassment and unwarranted prosecution.
Twenty-one other men were also sentenced on terrorism charges in Wednesday’s ruling, with thirteen receiving life sentences, and the rest being sentenced to fifteen years.
Burundi is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2012 survey. The country suffers from sporadic violence, corruption, and deep disputes between political factions, and journalists frequently get caught in the middle. In 2010 officials cracked down on Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), which favored an opposition political party. One journalist was beaten with bricks by police officers on his way home; another was detained, supposedly for illegally transporting weapons. The last two years have seen a surge in the number of journalists being detained while covering the ongoing violence in the country.