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» 28.06.2010 - Burundi failed election completed
» 01.03.2010 - Burundi opposition fields woman candidate for elections
» 11.12.2009 - Burundi faces funding shortfall for elections
» 20.08.2008 - Burundi crisis may jeopardise future stability
» 26.05.2008 - Burundi's rebels sign truce
» 04.04.2008 - Burundi political guru jailed
» 16.11.2007 - Burundi replaces VP
» 23.08.2007 - Burundi leaders hold crisis talks

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Politics | Media

Attacks on free press in run up to Burundi poll

afrol News, 15 February - As Burundi's April elections are approaching, government attacks on the country's still limited independent press are multiplying. A private news agency has been shut down over libel charges after criticising two of Burundi's leading politicians and an independent radio station was suspended for two days.

The Burundian independent radio station 'Radio Publique Africaine' (RPA) yesterday resumed broadcasting after authorities suspended the station on Friday for two days, accusing it of violating the country's press law. RPA has been airing critical debates on political issues.

The private Burundian news agency 'Net-Press', which was also summarily banned on Friday for seven days following libel complaints, still remains shuttered. Local journalists believe that authorities are trying to muzzle the press in the run-up to elections scheduled this year.

The government-appointed media regulatory body, the Conseil National de la Communication (CNC), issued the suspension orders. The CNC accused RPA of "multiple violations of the law regulating the press in Burundi," including "offending public morals" by reporting on the rape of an 8-year-old girl and threatening public security by "deforming" the words of Tutsi politician and former President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza.

RPA Director Alexis Sinduhije said these allegations were intended to intimidate the station, which has been airing critical debates and editorials about the country's electoral process. Mr Sinduhije earlier last year won the International Press Freedom Award, managed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In November, the CNC denied a request for RPA to create a regional radio station in partnership with Ngozi University in the north of the country. No radio station, including state-run RTNB, currently has any local affiliates outside the capital, Bujumbura.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, director of 'Net-Press', said the CNC suspended his news agency because of two articles alleged to be libellous. One of the 'Net-Press' articles accused Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, head of the National Committee for Rehabilitation of War Victims, of diverting food aid, according to Kavumbagu.

An editorial piece that ran several times in January and February said that National Assembly President Jean Minani was lazy and unfit to run for President of Burundi. Mr Minani is expected to be a presidential candidate for FRODEBU, the mainly Hutu party of the current Transitional President. Mr Kavumbagu said 'Net-Press' was not given any opportunity to answer the CNC's allegations.

Burundi is due to hold elections in April this year, but the electoral timetable has already been delayed. A constitutional referendum has been postponed three times and is now planned for 28 February. This set of polls is to end Burundi's civil war and transition period and establish a democratically elected government.

Media freedom groups are criticising the muzzling of the Burundian press in this critical moment of transition. "A free and fair election requires unfettered media," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "Burundian officials' recent actions are therefore very troubling. We call on authorities to stop this harassment and to allow Net-Press to resume operations," Ms Cooper added.

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