Burundi: Journalist Acquitted of Treason Charges

Faustin Ndikumana, the head driver for the radio station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), who was arrested on September 15 on charges of "threatening state
security," was detained for nearly seven months. He was accused of being at a meeting at which arms deliveries to rebels were allegedly discussed. The station
contended that the arrest was a form of intimidation against the radio station, which is often critical of government policies. Ndikumana was acquitted on April
14 after the only witness against him failed to appear in court.
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, journalists organized a protest march to call attention to the ongoing detention of Kavumbagu. Two weeks earlier, police
had broken up a peaceful protest of civil society organizations calling for justice in the case of a slain activist and detained two of the protesters for several
hours. However, police permitted the journalists' protest to go forward, a positive step in a country in which civil society protests are often banned.
Despite these developments, media freedom in Burundi remains constrained by criminal laws, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists
said. So-called press offenses impose criminal penalties on journalists and media workers for defamation, "discrediting" the state, insulting the head of state,
and "threatening state security." While journalists are rarely charged with crimes as serious as treason, four journalists were held for periods of four to six
months in 2006 and 2007 on press offenses and others have been called in for questioning on similar charges.
Under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Burundi is a party, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must
be necessary and narrowly drawn. Criminal penalties are always disproportionate punishments for harming a person's reputation and should be abolished. Civil
defamation and criminal incitement laws are sufficient for the purpose of protecting people's reputations and maintaining public order and can be written and
implemented in ways that provide appropriate protections for freedom of expression. 
"The fact that a prosecutor in Burundi can still request a life sentence for a journalist simply for criticizing the Burundian security forces demonstrates serious
weaknesses in Burundi's approach to the press," said Tom Rhodes, East Africa consultant at the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Burundi should
decriminalize press offenses and allow journalists to speak and write freely without fear of harassment or arrest."
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