Once again in Africa the media and especially radio stations have been at the centre of a coup d’état. On 18 April 2001, in the afternoon, about 30 soldiers occupied the premises of Radio-télévision nationale du Burundi (RTNB) and announced the overthrow of President Pierre Buyoya and his government. An hour later Colonel Martin Nkurikiye, head of the intelligence services, did the rounds of all privately-owned radio stations in Bujumbura to request their collaboration and denounce the attempted coup. A few minutes later the defence minister, Colonel Cyrille Ndayirukiye, announced on Bonesha FM that "the army is busy getting the situation under control". A journalist on a private radio station commented later that the media "had done their work professionally" and hoped that the army would no longer consider journalists and the independent press as "accomplices of the enemy".
Apart from this crisis period in which the government needed the private media, journalists have been victims of repression by the Burundi army. Several of them have been detained briefly or assaulted while trying to cover activities of the opposition. Cameras and video equipment have also been confiscated.
Late in the spring journalists with the private and public media asked for an amendment to the 1997 press law. Media professionals consider that the notion of "national unity" used several times when journalists are arrested is too vague and leaves room for abuse. The Burundi communication minister, Luc Rukingama, said that it is "premature to amend the press law which is liberal enough". "Everywhere in the world, war is creating a climate favourable to the repression of certain freedoms such as that of the press" he added. At the end of the year the new communication minister, Albert Mbonerane, promised "tax facilities" for privately-owned media which receive no subsidies.
One journalist jailed
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, manager of the private news agency Net Press, was arrested on 21 December 2001 and taken to the Bujumbura criminal investigation department. A few days later he was transferred to the local jail. He was accused of insulting the prosecutor in a dispatch of the electronic news agency Le Témoin. But Jean-Claude Kavumbagu does not work for that agency. Le Témoin is a clandestine agency that disseminates information by e-mail. Its staff are all anonymous. The journalist was released on 28 December on orders of the prosecutor. He affirms that his detention was "illegal and irregular".
Four journalists arrested
On 12 March 2001, Gabriel Nikundana, journalist with Bonesha FM, was arrested at his home and taken to the headquarters of the intelligence services. Three days earlier the station had broadcast an interview with Anicet Ntawuhiganayo, spokesperson for the National Liberation Forces (FNL), one of the two main rebel movements in the country. On 15 March Abbas Mbazumutima, editor-in-chief of the station was arrested for the same reason. The two journalists were accused of "incitement to civil disobedience" by virtue of Article 44 of the press law. They were released on 16 March after paying a fine of 100,000 Burundi francs (140 euros) each.
Fiacre Munezero, reporter for the recording agency Studio Ijambo, was detained briefly on 26 April and taken to the security services’ headquarters. The reasons for this arrest are unknown.
On the evening of 19 October Alexis Sinduhije, manager of the privately-owned radio station Radio publique africaine, was arrested and taken to the headquarters of the security police. He was released the next day after paying a fine of 20,000 Burundi francs (about 27 euros). The journalist says he was hit and insulted during his detention. Officers accused him of having an interview with South African soldiers on a mission to Burundi to protect Hutu political personalities returning from exile. The arrival of these soldiers, the day before, had been very discreet. No information was given to the national and international press.
Three journalists attacked
On 10 March 2001, Léon Masengo, journalist with Bonesha FM, Jacqueline Segahungu, journalist with Radio publique africaine, and Jean-Pierre Aimé Harerimana, cameraman for Reuters, were on their way to Bujumbura airport to cover the arrival of Epitace Bayaganakandi, a G6 (coalition of six Tutsi parties) presidential candidate. The three journalists were arrested at a roadblock outside the town. Léon Masengo asked to be allowed access to the airport, in his capacity as a journalist. The police refused and hit him. Jacqueline Segahungu and Jean-Pierre Aimé Harerimana were ordered to get out of their car and threatened at gunpoint. After being allowed to leave they were followed by an intelligence services car into the centre of town.
Pressure and obstruction
In May the equipment of several journalists of Radio publique africaine - Fidel Gahungu, Roger Havyarimana, Jean-Claude Nahirya, Merveille Sindayigaya and Emmanuel Ndamwizigiye - was confiscated by soldiers. The journalists did not have the required military and administrative authorisation to travel in the north of the country where armed rebels are at war against the Bujumbura government. The journalists were doing a report on the victims of the war-ravaged hills in the region. The soldiers confiscated the car license and the journalists’ permits to move about in Bujumbura after the curfew.