The action of the Bujumbura police in holding around 20 journalists hostage at the home of parliamentarian Mathias Basabose for more than seven hours yesterday was “absurd and astounding,” Reporters Without Borders said today. The reporters had been invited to a press conference about Basabose’s expulsion from the ruling party.
“We are amazed by this absurd act of intimidation,” the press freedom organisation said. “These reporters were clearly taken hostage in an internal dispute within the security apparatus and ruling party. We thought the days when the security forces would stage this kind of show of force were over in Burundi. If the authorities cannot provide a credible explanation, they must at least give the press guarantees that such an incident will not repeated.”
Some 50 policemen armed with assault rifles surrounded Basabose’s home at 3:30 p.m., shortly after the journalists had arrived for a press conference about Basabose’s expulsion two days before from the ruling coalition known as the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Front for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD).
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s former campaign manager, Basabose had wanted to give his version of his dispute with CNDD-FDD leader Hussein Radjabu about alleged embezzlement and political manoeuvring aimed at perverting the course of justice.
As they took up position around the house, the police officers announced that the presidential police had given them orders to “prevent anyone leaving.” On learning of the situation, other journalists came to Basabose’s home to “give themselves up to the police in solidarity” with their colleagues.
At least three journalists who tried to leave the house despite the warning were hit with rifle butts. Without offering any explanation, the commander of the Bujumbura police, Major David Nikiza, announced shortly before 11 p.m. that the journalists could leave.