Burundi journalists protest gov’t crackdown

Burundian journalists in black marking World Press Freedom Day


Clad in black T-shirts, with a black tape on their mouths, Burundian Journalist on Sunday banded together to dramatically protest the government’s recent oppressive tendencies against the press amidst ongoing political crisis.

While celebrating World Press Freedom Day in Bujumbura May 3, Burundian journalists deplored government’s attempts to harass and silence the media especially since the outbreak of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term bid.

“As the world celebrates this day (World Press Freedom Day), the government of Burundi has decided to battle it out with press freedom in Burundi by targeting journalists and media outlets”, saidAlexandre Niyungeko, the Chairman of the Burundi Journalists Union (UBJ).

Mr Niyungeko stressed the media and journalists have been labelled enemies of the state by the government and it’s over-zealous youth militants Imbonerakure, as a result, their lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy.

“It’s obvious that presenting media houses as enemies of the nation is an overt appeal to lynching of their personnel,” Niyungeko stated.

Despite government threats, Niyungeko has urged journalists to soldier on and stick to journalism ethics as they inform the public in these hard times.

President Nkurunziza’s government has shutdown a number of radio stations, and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp to make it extremely hard for journalists to do their job

On April 26, just at the beginning of the protests, signals of three independent radio stations were cut off countrywide. Radio Isanganiro, RPA (Radio Public Africaine) and Radio Bonesha were no longer heard countrywide except in the capital Bujumbura and its suburbs.

Burundi Police besieging RPA radio premises

Rema FM, the ruling party and government mouthpiece and the Radio-télévision Nationale du Burundi (RTNB) on the other hand are broadcasting nationally as usual without any interruption.

Last week, more than 10 journalists have been victims of all kinds of harassment, including death threats, intimidations, physical attacks and beatings by the police, and the Imbonerakure youth wing of the CNDD-FDD ruling party, trying to contain protesters.

Live coverage of the protests has been banned, and the government has threatened to close any radio station that goes against the rule.

On Labor Day President Nkurunziza himself denied access to journalists from Radio Isanganiro, Radio Bonesha and Iwacu Newspaper, journalists from these “enemies of the state” were denied entry into the presidential palace as the president addressed the nation.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) has ranked Burundi 145th out of 180 countries in its 2015 press freedom index. The report indicates crackdown on civil liberties including freedom of information remained under attack in 2014.

“Criticism of abuses by the government or security forces exposes journalists to the possibility of immediate reprisals, including the threat of closure, never-ending prosecutions and, above all, systematic accusations of helping the opposition,” RSF report said

Tensions are high in the capital Bujumbura between private media houses on one side, and the government and the ruling party on the other.