Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Burundi journos, activists bemoan mounting harassment

25 March 2015, 20:03

Bujumbura - As tensions mount in Burundi ahead of presidential elections, journalists and activists say they are paying an increasingly heavy price as standard bearers for free speech.

Civil rights in the small Great Lakes nation, they say, are on the decline - sacrificed at the altar of President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial ambition to defy a two-term limit and stay in power for another five years.

There are allegations of widespread harassment and threats of violence, and even talk of a hit-list containing the names of opposition figures, civil society activists and journalists to be eliminated before parliamentary polls in May and the presidential election in June.

High-profile arrests have already been made: human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was detained last May after reporting that Nkurunziza's ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, was arming its youth wing and training them in the jungles of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bob Rugurika, director of the popular independent African Public Radio (RPA), was also arrested in January after implicating intelligence officials in the recent murders of Italian nuns.

Vibrant civil society

"These are the best known cases, but there are many other cases of activists who are constantly harassed, intimidated by high-ranking members of the authorities, who receive threatening phone calls or summonses," explained Carina Tersakian of the global watchdog Human Rights Watch.

"There is a vibrant civil society here in Burundi that is an asset for the country, but the government is taking it very badly," she said. "The same goes for the media."

Also read: Two die in Mali blast

Burundi's government fiercely denies the allegations, yet at the same time makes no secret of its disdain of a section of the media and non-governmental organisations who are seen as political opponents in all but name.

"Burundian civil society is made up of more than 6 000 organisations. The problem is with a few associations and a few individuals who wear the cap of civil society, but who use that to attack the government," said Willy Nyamitwe, a communications advisor to the president.

On the frontline

Radio boss Rugurika, whose release from jail in February sparked a major public outpouring of support that clearly rattled the authorities, said the government was simply trying to "silence any voice of dissent".

Since his radio station started, he explained, "there have been four different regimes of three or four different presidents, and each has labelled us as being close to the opposition."

The situation today for civil society groups, however, appears to be all the more tense given that Burundi's main opposition parties boycotted the last elections in 2010 over allegations of fraud, leaving themselves excluded from the official debate.

"We practically ended up on the frontline, over-exposed in relation to the authorities, and in a permanent state of tension," explained Innocent Muhozi, president of Burundi's Press Observatory, a media rights group.

Burundi's media has paid a high price for being outspoken in its denunciation of alleged extrajudicial killings, the plundering of the impoverished country's wealth by corrupt politicians or attacks on freedom of expression.

But Muhozi said the determination to speak out remained steadfast.

Burundi is still recovering from a brutal 13-year-long civil war that ended in 2006, and is part of a region beset by genocide and rebellion. Activists insist they are determined to oppose the president's bid for a third term - widely seen as a move that could plunge the country back into chaos.

"People have come to say that it is possible to resist," Muhozi said.

On the streets of Bujumbura, the message does not appear to be falling on deaf ears: at midday, the time of RPA's main news bulletin, many listened closely to the station's broadcasts.

"It's an important radio station," said Abdul Teddy Ntunzwenimana, a 33-year-old motorcycle taxi rider. "I listen to it everyday. I like it because it tells the truth."



Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...