Spotlight on Burundi: Media attacked, journalists silenced

| May 25, 2015

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Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced last month that he plans to run for a third term in office. Opposition and rights groups are arguing that Nkurunziza’s plans to run for more than two terms are unconstitutional.

Since the president’s announcement, anti-government protesters have grown increasingly frustrated. An attempted coup d’état failed to overthrow the government and forces loyal to the president are now silencing media outlets and threatening journalists.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), on May 14,”unidentified individuals” fired grenades into the compounds of four privately-owned radio stations. Bonesha FM, Renaissance Radio and Television, Radio Isanganiro, and African Public Radio, or APR, were all attacked. The APR compound was burned to the ground. Reports say that it was hit by a rocket.

Eluoge Niyonzima is a reporter with APR. He narrowly escaped what he believes was a plot to kill him. Armed men forced their way into his house on May 17 while he was out. Mr. Niyonzima and his boss at APR, Bob Rugurika, have been forced to flee the country, fearing for their safety.

Currently, no private or community radio station in Burundi is allowed to broadcast.


Photo: The damaged offices of African Public Radio, attacked during violence over the attempted coup d’état. Credit: AFP/Jennifer Huxta

Barza Wire has been in contact with a Burundian journalist on the ground who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons. The journalist says that police are standing guard over the attacked radio stations, refusing to allow even the owners of the stations to enter the buildings and assess the damage.

Radio is an important source of news in Burundi. The only station currently allowed to broadcast is RNTB, or Radio-Télévision Nationale du Burundi, the state-owned radio station.

Innocent Muhozi is head of the Burundian Press Observatory. He confirms that the government has shut down independent media outlets. Until the recent anti-government protests, journalists had been steadfast and outspoken in their denunciation of corrupt politicians.

According to the Burundian journalist we contacted, silence on the airwaves has impacted everyone: “Citizens have no clue what’s happening. Many are afraid to even leave their house and have stocked up on food supplies to hold them over, while others are choosing to flee to neighbouring Rwanda and Tanzania.”

The journalist says the media crackdown is not only affecting local journalists, but also the foreign press. He explains: “Lately, the government has not hesitated to shoot at protesters with live ammunition, [and] … the presence of foreign journalists is making it harder for police to shoot indiscriminately at their fellow Burundians … Recently, the government has restricted [the foreign press’s] access to protests, accusing them of reporting biased information.”

Sue Valentine is CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator. She recently underlined the importance of press freedom, saying: “Attacking news outlets is never a solution, especially when citizens need to know what is happening around them and those in power should be listening to what their people are saying.”

President Nkurunziza recently announced that the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 26 to June 5 have been postponed.

For more on the situation in Burundi, see:

Main photo: A protester carries a placard urging the government to re-open their local Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, April 29, 2015. Credit: Christian Science Monitor