Burundian Journalist Sentenced to Life
IPI Expresses Concern about Misuse of Anti-Terrorism Laws
By: By Fatma Elshhati, IPI Staff
VIENNA, June 22, 2012 - Hassan Ruvakuki, a reporter for Radio France Internationale’s (RFI) Swahili-language service and local broadcaster Bonesha FM, was convicted to life in prison by a local court on Wednesday, along with 13 others in the eastern African country of Burundi, on charges of terrorism.
According to RFI, Ruvakuki was arrested in November last year after returning from Tanzania, where he had interviewed the leader of the rebel group, forces for the Restoration of Democracy (FRD). The armed group is believed to be responsible for several attacks in 2011 in the east of the country, near the border with Tanzania, which left scores of people dead.
On June 20, the Provincial High Court in Cankuzo Province found Ruvakuki guilty of "participating in terrorist attacks," following his interview with FRD leader Pierre Claver Kabirigi, based in neighbouring Tanzania.
Ruvakuki’s lawyer, Onesime Kabayabaya, told Reuters that the verdict was “shocking and shameful.” Ruvakuki “did his job of investigation to inform Burundi’s public on what was going on in the country," Kabayabaya said.
“It appears that, once again, anti-terrorism laws are being used to silence reports about rebel groups, an issue of unquestionable public interest but often perceived as sensitive by governments,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “IPI believes that this is not a legitimate application of anti-terrorism laws and that it violates the fundamental right to press freedom and the people’s right to know.”
“We urge Burundi’s court of appeals to overturn this ruling and allow press freedom to be practiced in the country,” Trionfi added.
In a joint statement, Radio France Internationale and its affiliate France 24 have expressed deep concern over the issue: “Our colleague was condemned by Burundi’s justice system for doing his job. Hassan Ruvakuki will appeal this sentence and he can count on our support.”
Ruvakuki's harsh sentence appears to be part of a broader effort by the Burundian government to silence media reports about political opposition in the country. Following an FRD attack in Gatumba on Sept. 18, 2011, which caused the death of 30 to 40 people, Burundi’s National Security Council reportedly ordered journalists not to publish, comment on, or analyze information on the ongoing investigations into the massacre and other cases under investigation.
Similarly, on Dec. 1, 2011, France 24 was cut off in the country after it attempted to report on “new rebellion and political tensions in Burundi,” France 24’s correspondent Pauline Simonet reported.