Senegal: CPJ decries mounting press freedom crisis in Burundi

Dakar, Senegal (PANA) - The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed alarm about the ''deteriorating situation for the media'' in Burundi.

In a statement made available to PANA in Dakar, Senegal, on Wednesday, the press freedom watchdog said in the past three days alone, Burundi's Interior Ministry had closed the country's journalists' union and security forces detained reporters on assignment.

It said the Interior Minister, Pascal Barandagiye, on Monday indefinitely suspended the operating permits of five organizations, including the Burundian Union of Journalists (UBJ, by its French acronym), and banned an additional five leading civil society groups outright.

According to the CPJ, the Interior Ministry's order came a day after Burundian security forces detained journalist Julia Steers, a fellow with the International Women's Media Foundation, her fixer Gildas Yihundimpundu, and driver Pascal Sinahagera while the three were reporting in the Mutakura suburb of Bujumbura, the site of days of protests in April 2015.

Steers, an American citizen, was said to have been released to the U.S. Embassy soon after her arrest, but Yihundimpundu, who also freelances for the BBC, and Sinahagera, their driver, were held overnight at the headquarters of Burundi's National Intelligence Service (SNR, by its French acronym) and released later on Monday evening.

"By suspending the permit of the country's journalists' union, Burundi's government has expanded from jailing journalists to trying to silence those who courageously stand up for their imprisoned colleagues," remarked CPJ East Africa Representative Murithi Mutiga

"We call on Burundian authorities to release all journalists behind bars for their work, and to allow the Burundian Union of Journalists' to operate freely."

UBJ Chairman Alexandre Niyungeko told CPJ that the Interior Ministry's decision had neither been officially communicated to the union nor had it been given any reasons for the order.

"The union has consistently condemned the attacks against the media and the closing of the window for free expression, and we can only conclude that this is the reason for this action," he said.

According to the statement, Burundi, formerly home to a lively news media, has in the past year become so hostile to independent journalists that CPJ is aware of at least 100 Burundian journalists forced to flee the country since April 2015.

Those who remain, it said, risk arrest, or worse. The press freedom watchdog also recalled that SNR officers on October 2 arrested Salvador Nahimana, a reporter for the Catholic station Radio Maria, without specifying a reason for his arrest and still remained in state custody.  

It said another journalist, Jean Bigirimana of the newspaper Iwacu, has been missing since July 22 after leaving his house having received a call from the intelligence service and has not been seen since.
-0- PANA MLJ/VAO 26Oct2016

26 october 2016 15:50:23

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