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Burundi passes media law restricting journalistic freedom

Burundi lawmakers passed a media law on Monday that restricts journalistic freedom by limiting topics that can be reported on and reducing the protection afforded to sources. The bill prohibits stories [HRW report] that could affect Burundi's "national unity; public order and security; morality and good conduct; honor and human dignity; national sovereignty; the privacy of individuals; the presumption of innocence" or issues involving "propaganda of the enemy of the Burudian nation in times of peace as of war" and "information that could affect the credit of the state and the national economy." The law requires journalists to have a university degree in journalism or a minimum of two years of professional journalistic experience to report. Violators face fines ranging between USD $2,000 and $6,000.

Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy websites] have criticized the bill saying it violates Burundian journalists' freedom of speech. RSF said [RSF report] "the new law restricts journalists' ability to do investigate reporting," and "the country has gone backwards more than 20 years." In May, the National Communication Council (CNC) suspended for 30 days [Guardian report] a Burudian newspaper's online forum. The council said the reader's comments violated the law, specifically "endangering national unity, public order and security." The newspaper has responded by suspending its entire website until July 1. In May 2011 journalist Jean Claude Kavumbagu was acquitted of treason charges [HRW report] after being arrested in July 2010 for questioning the Burundian army and their capability to defend in an article. He was found guilty of being likely to "discredit the state or economy."

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