Burundi: Upholding journalists’ conviction further undermines media freedom

Following the decision by the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal to uphold the convictions of Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi, journalists working with Iwacu, one of the country’s last independent media outlets, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena said:

The decision to reject the Iwacu journalists’ appeal is deeply disappointing and unjust. Amnesty International considers all four to be prisoners of conscience who should be immediately and unconditionally released.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

“The decision to reject the Iwacu journalists’ appeal is deeply disappointing and unjust. The journalists are imprisoned for peacefully investigating and reporting on matters of public interest. Amnesty International considers all four to be prisoners of conscience who should be immediately and unconditionally released.

“We urge the Burundian authorities to ensure full protection of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information and stop trying to silence journalists.”

Background

The four journalists were arrested, along with their driver Adolphe Masabarakiza, on 22 October 2019 while on their way to report on clashes in Bubanza province.

Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined one million Burundian francs (approximately 525 USD) on 30 January 2020 after being found guilty of an ‘impossible attempt’ to threaten internal state security – that is, an attempt judged impossible to succeed for reasons unknown to the defendants. Adolphe Masabarakiza, who had been provisionally released in November 2019, was acquitted.

During the trial, the prosecution presented in evidence a joke sent over WhatsApp from one of the journalists to a colleague that they were “going to support the rebels”. The defence presented another message from the same journalist that they were going “to deal with these people who want to disturb the peace and the elections.”

The journalists appealed their sentence. The appeal was heard on 6 May by the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal in a hearing held at the Bubanza High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance). Their conviction was upheld on 4 June.