- A Burundian court yesterday acquitted and discharged three journalists after the state could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that they had violated the law by reporting allegations of a coup plot.
Two of the journalists - Serge Nibize and Domitile Kiramvu who both work at 'African Public Radio' - were arrested in November after they were accused of violating the secret information act by reporting a coup plot case while investigations were still pending.
The third journalist, Mathias Manirakiza, Director of 'Radio Isanganiro', was detained a week later, accused of authorising his station to broadcast information capable of breaching state security.
All the three journalists pleaded innocent to the charges. But prosecutors last month urged the court to sentence the journalists to three years in jail.
In his judgment, Judge Francois Naraguma said, "the court has received complaints by the public prosecution but declare them unfounded".
"Charges of breaking media law were not established, consequently the court decides to acquit Serge Nibizi, Domitile Kiramvu and Mathias Manirakiza," Judge Naraguma ruled, adding that a fourth journalist, 'Radio Bonesha' Director Corneille Nibaruta, who went into hiding, had been acquitted in absentia of similar charges.
"We are relieved that our colleagues have been cleared of these preposterous charges and are to be freed," said Joel Simon, Executive Director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "We urge the government to take note of this ruling and cease the prosecution of journalists for critical reporting."
Since September, the government has cracked down on 'RPA', 'Radio Isanganiro' and 'Radio Bonesha' for their critical reporting.
The Burundian government under the leadership of President Pierre Nkurunziza has been at the daggers end of human rights activists and civil rights groups for trampling on the rights of citizens. Since it had claimed to foil an attempted coup, the Burundi government arrested and detained seven opposition figures, including the country's former interim President Domitién Ndayizeye.
Ex-President Ndayizeye now stands accused of planning the alleged coup plot at the Bujumbura Supreme Court, were the prosecutor on Friday called for a life sentence to be handed down. Mr Ndayizeye on Tuesday denied charges and claimed he had "never dreamed of organising a coup."
"It is I who integrated former rebels, including the actual head of state. That is I wanted Burundi to enjoy peace," the ex-President that led Burundi during a transition to democracy told the court. Several Burundian sources claim that the alleged coup plot never had been planned and just is misused as a government plot to root out potential opposition leaders.
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