On World Press Freedom Day, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project calls on the President of the Republic of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, to reject the repressive new Press Law in its current form. The Press Law was adopted by the Senate on 19th April 2013, with minor changes sent to the National Assembly, before it is sent to the President for promulgation.
EHAHRDP is concerned that this law will further limit free expression and access to information in Burundi, in an environment that is already very challenging for Burundian journalists. A number of provisions in the legislation are vaguely worded and open to abuse. For example, the new law would introduce broad exceptions to the fundamental right of journalists not to reveal their sources, in incidences relating to state security, public order, defence secrets and the physical or moral integrity of one or several persons. The law would also extend existing restrictions on subjects that journalists may not cover, including the unclear concepts of publishing ‘false’ information and propaganda for Burundi’s enemies in time of peace as well as in times of war.
Jail sentences for press crimes appear to have been removed and during Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review in January 2013 the delegation stated that the major innovation of the draft law was the decriminalisation of press offenses, although article 59 still allows for criminal prosecutions in cases of violations of certain articles. Fines of up to 6 million Burundian francs (approximately $3,750 USD) would be payable by media houses for press offenses.
At the same time, Burundian journalists are facing increasing attacks and harassment. On 26th April 2013, Willy Abagenzinikindi, a journalist for Télé Renaissance was attacked in his home by assailants with guns and machetes after returning from covering a civil society meeting. The attackers stole his computer and several recordings. On 30th April, Patrick Niyonkuru, a journalist with African Public Radio (RPA) was shot at by a police officer he saw extorting money from men carrying fruit to market. The officer harassed Niyonkuru and then shot him in the arm according to witnesses, as he was investigating the situation. In this worrying context, the Government of Burundi should be seeking to bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks.
Bills are also currently under consideration in Burundi to regulate NGOs and the holding of public demonstrations. All these draft laws should be reviewed to ensure that they will protect rather than further restrict civil society space in the country and that they conform to the principles adopted in the Burundian Constitution and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
For more information, please contact: