CPJ condemns arrest of Burundian journalists by DRC authorities, urges immediate release

Burundian Military at Africa Public Radio premises in April

Burundian Military at Africa Public Radio premises in Bujumbura, this April

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist has condemned the recent arrest Burundian journalist Ejide Mwemero by authorities in Uvira town, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and called for his immediate release.

Mwemero, a broadcasting journalist with African Public Radio (RPA), one of the private radio stations banned by the government for airing speeches of the leaders of the failed coup in May, was arrested and detained last week along with two Congolese journalists.

The two Congolese journalists were later freed but the Burundian journalist is still in custody.
In a press release issued Monday, the CPJ expressed concerned about the detained reporter and the fact that there has been no charges leveled against him.

“Radio is a vital information source for people in this region and journalists should be allowed to do their jobs. We are extremely concerned that Egide Mwemero is being held without any public disclosure of charges against him and we urge Democratic Republic of Congo authorities to release him immediately,” the release reads in part.

Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator at CPJ, says her organisation is worried that the DRC government might be working hand in hand with the government of Burundi to silence radio voices and harass journalists in exile.

“We are concerned that the Congolese authorities might be acting on behalf of Burundian authorities and targeting those Burundian independent journalists who have fled Burundi to seek refuge in the neighboring countries,” Valentine stated.

Egide Mwemero works for African Public radio (RPA), one of the five independent radio stations attacked, destroyed and shut down in the wake of the May 13 foiled coup. Days before it was attacked, the government had already banned it from broadcasting, on April 27, 2015.

Despite the fact that majority of its journalists fled to the neighbouring Rwanda, RPA has recently launched a political radio show “Humura Burundi” in partnership with a Congolese community station; Radio le Messager du Peuple.

Observers say Bujumbura is not comfortable with the banned radio allowed to broadcast in its vast Central African neighbour.

The CPJ official however, thinks it’s the right for any of the banned outlets to inform the public for the sake of the citizens’ universal right to information.

“Access to information is a universal human right, protected by Article 19 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration which brings together all countries in the world, including Burundi and the DRC. All citizens should have access to information from different sources and radios stations in the region are hugely important in providing information,” Valentine notes adding the ban has been unhelpful to a crisis-hit country like Burundi.

CPJ calls on both the Burundian and DRC governments to respect freedom of speech as provided for by the United Nations.

It has been five months since five independent media outlets; Radios Isanganiro, Bonesha, African Public Radio, Renaissance and Rema, were attacked, destroyed and shutdown allegedly for their role in the foiled coup of May 13.

Relations between the government and independent journalists remain tense in Burundi. The government accuses them of acting on behalf of the opposition and to have a hand in the ongoing political crisis.

Meanwhile Esdras Ndikumana, Radio France International and AFP has filed a suit against the government of Burundi. He accuses security forces of harassment as he covered the assassination of Lieutenant-General Adolphe Nshimirimana on August 2.