UN: Serious concerns about freedom of expression in Burundi
UN: Serious concerns about freedom of expression in Burundi

[JURIST] The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Friday expressed concerns about the exercise of freedom of expression in Burundi following the arrest of Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine (RPA). Rugurika was arrested on January 20 for refusing to disclose the name of a man who confessed on RPA to having murdered three Italian nuns. During his confession, the man implicated security and senior intelligence officials in the crime. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the OHCHR, stated [UN report] that charging Rugurika with complicity in the murders, violating confidentiality in criminal investigations, harboring a criminal and failing to uphold public solidarity, raises concerns about freedom of speech, concerns which are especially poignant given the upcoming elections. The UN had previously urged Burundi “to review the media law which requires journalists to reveal their sources when the report on issues such as state security and public order. The legislation leads all too easily to infringement on the freedom of expression” said Shamdasani. Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes Rugurika’s imprisonment “seems to be a blatant attempt to silence the media” and the move risks Burundi’s “precious democratic gains” [HRW advocacy reports].

This is not the first time Burundi has been criticized for limiting freedoms and violating other basic human rights. Last November, the OHCHR reported that human rights activists in Burundi are treated as political opponents [JURIST report] by the state and subject to physical threats, anonymous phone calls, arbitrary arrests, assaults and judicial harassment. In June 2013, Burundi lawmakers passed [JURIST report] a media law that restricts journalistic freedom by limiting topics that can be reported on and reducing the protection afforded to sources. The bill prohibits stories 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.” In July 2010 Transparency International [advocacy website] named [JURIST report] Burundi the most corrupt East-African nation with a corruption index of 36.7 percent. In August 2009 HRW urged [JURIST report] Burundi to punish human rights violators from their country’s 16-year armed conflict.