Burundi: Journalist Acquitted of Treason Charges


Burundi: Journalist Acquitted of Treason Charges
Media Still Subject to Criminal Prosecution for Peaceful Speech
(Nairobi) - The acquittal of a journalist on treason charges on May 13, 2011, is a positive development for Burundi, where politically motivated harassment of
journalists has been on the rise, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. However, his conviction on a lesser charge shows
the need for Burundi's government to amend its press law to decriminalize so-called press offenses, the organizations said.
The journalist, Jean Claude Kavumbagu, was arrested in July 2010 after publishing an article in his online news journal, NetPress, questioning the Burundian
army's ability to respond to possible threats from the Somali militant group al-Shabaab. "Our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and
kill their compatriots rather than defend our country," he wrote.  The authorities charged him with treason, a crime that carries a life sentence. His trial was on
April 13 in Bujumbura, the capital. The verdict, on May 13, found Kavumbagu not guilty of treason, but guilty under article 50 of the press law of publishing
an article "likely to discredit the state or economy." He was given an eight-month sentence but was released on May 17, since he had spent 10 months in
pretrial detention.
"Kavumbagu's release is good news, but he shouldn't have been detained at all," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "His conviction
on another press crime is a reminder that journalists in Burundi still risk going to prison for criticizing the government or security forces."
The Burundian government has recently taken several positive steps showing greater respect for freedom of expression after a low point in 2010, when
authorities threatened and arbitrarily detained a number of journalists and media workers. Most were released after a few days.


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