ONE YEAR TOO LONG: BURUNDIANS ARBITRARILY DETAINED FOR THEIR JOURNALISM
On 22 October 2019, Agnes Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi were arrested when they arrived in Bubanza province where violent clashes had broken out overnight between the Burundian security forces and an armed group. As per their usual protocol, they informed local authorities in advance of their trip to the area. On arrival in the province, authorities accused them of complicity in undermining state security. The four were convicted on a lesser offense of attempting to undermine state security and sentenced to two and half years in prison and a fine of one million Burundian francs (approximately 525 USD) each on 30 January 2020. Their driver, Adolphe Masabarakiza, who had been provisionally released in November 2019, was acquitted. They are all prisoners of conscience that must be released immediately and unconditionally.
Free arbitrarily detained journalists in Burundi
On 22 October 2019, four Iwacu journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi were arrested as they went to report on clashes between the security forces and an armed group in Bubanza province. More than a year later, they are still arbitrarily detained in Burundi. Take action now to free them and bring them back to their family.
Although they had informed the provincial authorities of their plan to travel to the area, four Iwacu journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi were arrested on their arrival in Bubanza province to report on clashes between an armed group and the security forces. They were later accused of threatening internal state security. However, during their trial, the prosecution presented no evidence of the journalists having any contact with the armed group.
Although they were charged with complicity in threatening the internal security of the state, Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana, and Mpozenzi were ultimately convicted of attempting to commit the crime, a lesser criminal offense. Their lawyers say that they were not informed of the change to the charge prior to the verdict or allowed to defend themselves against it in court, violating fair trial standards. All four were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined one million Burundian francs (approximately 525 USD). Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana, and Mpozenzi appealed their conviction, but in its 4 June decision, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.
The message sent by the courts is an attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work and reporting on what is happening inside the country, the organizations said. The conviction and continued detention of the four journalists also runs counter to Burundi’s constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, as well as regional and international obligations in accordance with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is particularly inconsistent with the African Commission’s 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which specifically provides that states shall take measures to prevent “arbitrary arrest and detention” of journalists.
Iwacu is one of the few remaining independent media houses operational in Burundi. Hundreds of journalists and human rights defenders have fled the country since the start of the political crisis in 2015 and those still working in the country often face threats and harassment.
Releasing Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana, and Mpozenzi would be an important first step towards reopening civic space and recognizing the contribution of reliable media reporting in ensuring access to information for all Burundians.
Join us to demand their immediate and unconditional release.
Send an email to President Evariste to urge him to take the necessary actions to free them and prevent the arbitrary arrest of journalists.
A lawyer by training, Agnes, 37, graduated from the University of Burundi in 2011. She began her journalism career in 2009. According to one of her colleagues, she is a seasoned political analyst and the first woman to head the Political Desk at Iwacu Press Group. A single mother to a 12-year-old boy, Agnes joined Iwacu in 2016 at the peak of the crisis in Burundi.
She had previously worked for Rema FM; a private media house believed to be close to the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). Rema FM was attacked by unidentified armed men during the attempted coup against the government of the late President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2015.
Agnes’ political savviness is highly appreciated at Iwacu. She is the go-to person when it comes to political analysis. A colleague of hers recognizes that one of her qualities is her power of persuasion. During editorial meetings, she would bring new perspectives into discussions that many wouldn’t have seen at first. In her team, no one can match her network and contact list of the political elite in Burundi. Agnes never hesitates to lend a hand to other teams, like Iwacu’s Web Radio service, as she is an experienced radio presenter from her days at Rema FM.
It has been a year since Agnes’ son has felt the warmth and care of a mother. When he visits her at the prison in Bubanza province, the separation at the end of the visits is always the hardest and most painful for Agnes. The sole reason Agnes and her son are subjected to this cruelty is because she is a journalist. It is because she dared to seek the truth. It is because the work she does shines a light on the suffering of the most marginalized and the human rights violations that many in Burundi face.
Christine was one of the most recognizable voices at Bonesha FM before it was attacked during the attempted coup in May 2015 against late President Pierre Nkurunziza. She started her career as a journalist in 2011.
When Iwacu launched its Web Radio in 2015, they called upon Christine for her excellent reporting skills, and she joined in July 2016. She has a degree in Communication for Development from Bujumbura Light University.
Christine is passionate about politics, security, and social issues, such as education.
Christine’s family is in pain. Her prolonged absence from them is exacerbating their grief. “I can see the suffering of Christine’s parents through their eyes. Every time I pass by them, they look at me questioningly,” says one of Christine’s colleagues.
Egide Harerimana joined Iwacu three months before he and his colleagues were arrested in Bubanza.
Egide is an English language intern reporter at Iwacu. He joined the house media after graduating in the English language from the University of Burundi. His reports were always on time and well written, according to one of his colleagues.
On 22 October 2019, Egide volunteered to join the team that was heading to Musigati in Bubanza province to investigate the clashes that had occurred overnight between the Burundian security forces and an unidentified armed group. His place is not in prison. He still has a bright career ahead of him.
Térence Mpozenzi is an experienced photojournalist and webmaster at Iwacu, having joined the media house in February 2018.
It is love for telling a story through pictures that led to Terence’s arrest. In fact, on the day that he was arrested with his colleagues, he had insisted on being part of the team heading to Musigati to cover the reported fighting because he wanted professional photos to illustrate a news story of such national importance. He often complained about how his colleagues would forget to take pictures when in the field reporting. He wanted to make sure that for this major story, professional images would be used to catch the readers’ attention.
CLIMATE OF REPRESSION AGAINST JOURNALISTS
When the late President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his decision to seek a third term in office, mass demonstrations broke out, with thousands of people taking to the streets to oppose the move that they saw as violating term limits set out in the 2005 Constitution and the Arusha Peace Accords. These demonstrations were met with excessive and at times deadly force by the security forces. Since then, hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured or arrested. Many were forcibly disappeared, including Jean Bigirimana, a journalist for Iwacu who was last seen on 22 July 2016. The climate of fear of reprisals has pushed many journalists to flee the country. Iwacu is one of the last independent media houses still operating within the country.
The evidence that the prosecutor presented in the case against the four Iwacu journalists was a joke that one of them shared with another colleague via WhatsApp saying they were “going to help the rebels”. However, the prosecutor failed to provide any evidence establishing that any of the journalists were, in fact, in contact with any member of the armed group that carried out the attack in Musigati, in Bubanza province.
Amnesty International considers Agnes Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
We call for their immediate and unconditional release.