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Burundi15 June 2005

Secret services arrest journalist who said president was "depressed"

Reporters Without Borders "protested at unacceptable methods" used by Burundi’s presidency to "punish" a journalist for reporting that President Domitien Ndayizeye was depressed after his party lost recent local elections.

Secret service agents summoned and then detained Etienne Ndikuriyo, of privately-owned Bonesha FM and the Zoom-Net agency at dawn on 14 June 2005, after the article about the head of state appeared.

"We are extremely surprised at the outdated behaviour of the presidency, that allows its secret police to punish a journalist completely illegally for what it considers to be insolence," said Reporters Without Borders. "Etienne Ndikuriyo should be released immediately."

"It was paradoxical to have to remind the president that his country has a Constitution, laws and a judicial system, all of which have been trampled in the way this journalist has been treated," the organisation added.

"In the wake of elections crucial to the country’s future, the head of state, guarantor of its institutions, should publicly explain himself about this distressing episode since the spotlight is now on him over this."

Head of the secret services, Lt-Col. Janvier Rubwebwe, telephoned Ndikuriyo early on the morning of 14 June over an article posted on Zoom-Net referring to the president’s apparently depressed state since his party was defeated in local elections on 3 June.

The journalist was questioned at the headquarters of ’La Documentation’, the country’s secret service, about his "outrageous remarks about the head of state written with his own hand", the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported an anonymous source as saying.

Questioned by Reporters Without Borders, Lt-Col. Rubwebwe said he was not aware of the case, although an Associated Press (AP) report had earlier quoted him as saying that the journalist had been arrested to make him "reveal his sources".

A government source that chose anonymity told the worldwide press freedom organisation that the order to arrest Ndikuriyo came directly from the presidency which controls the secret services. After a first call from Reporters Without Borders to the secret services head, he stopped answering calls. A local source said he had even refused to reply to a member of the government.

"The journalist only reported on the comments from among the president’s entourage referring to his depression", said editor of Bonesha FM, Léon Masengo. "The president has made no public comment since the municipal elections." At the end of the day, Masengo was able to visit Ndikuriyo and was allowed to speak to him from a distance of ten metres. "He was tired but he was coping OK. He spent the day in the full sun responding to a barrage of questions," he told Reporters Without Borders. "They told me he would spend the night in custody and maybe several days."

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