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Burundi6 September 2006

Concern that scapegoated press could be prime target in feared crackdown

Reporters Without Borders today said it was appalled by ruling party chief Hussein Radjabu’s threatening comments towards the press on 3 September and, in particular, his personal attack on Emmanuel Nsabimana, a journalist with Radio ONUB, a station operated by the local UN mission.

“The tension triggered by allegations of a coup plot will soon boil over if nothing is done to defuse it, and the privately-owned press, which is blamed for every problem, will almost certainly be a prime target in an ensuing crackdown,” the press freedom organisation said. “President Pierre Nkurunziza must take the initiative of reestablishing a relationship of trust with the independent media, which have had a rough ride in recent weeks. Intimidation, insults and repression will just aggravate an already disturbing situation.”

Radjabu, who is the chairman of the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), made his attacks on the press in an address to the thousands of supporters who had gathered in Prince Rwagasore stadium on 3 September to mark the first anniversary of President Nkurunziza’s installation.

Describing journalists who criticise the government as “talking skulls,” Radjabu called for the moral of a folk tale to be applied to them, one about a meeting between a man and a decapitated head in which the man asks, “What did you die of, sir?” and the head replies, “I died a natural death but you will die as a result of what you say (Jewe nishwe n’urwabagabo nawe uzokwicwa n’akarimi kawe).” He also referred to Nsabimana as a “beggar” who went around the embassies scrounging wine.

The political climate has been poisoned for weeks by the coup attempt allegations, and the fact that many independent media have questioned their veracity. The head of the privately-owned Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), Alexis Sinduhije, said they had been “fabricated” by CNDD-FDD “hardliners” led by the powerful and controversial Radjabu.

Second Vice-President Alice Nzomukunda meanwhile resigned yesterday condemning the government’s corruption and “total incapacity” and blaming this on Radjabu, who “does not respect the institutions of the republic,” she said.

Every since the coup plot allegations surfaced, Sinduhije’s radio station, RPA, and the other Bujumbura-based stations that interview or quote him have been branded by the ruling party as “hate radios” and “manipulators” pitted against “the democratically-elected institutions.” The authorities ordered the closure of RPA’s branch in the northern city of Ngozi on 18 August, a day after the president warned of “radio stations and journalists who try to act as tribunals and judges.” Anonymous threats, verbal attacks and rumours of imminent arrests are now exacerbating the tension.

On the day of the rally at Prince Rwagasore stadium, the CNDD-FDD also wrongly reported on its website that Gabriel Nikundana, the editor of the privately-owned radio station Isanganiro, had fled the country for Kenya in order to seek asylum in Europe. In fact, Nikundana is back in Uganda after a brief trip to Uganda.

Reporters Without Borders meanwhile took the opportunity to reiterate its outrage about the plight of Aloys Kabura, the correspondent of the Agence Burundaise de Presse in the northern city of Kayanza, who has been imprisoned there since 31 May for comments he made in a bar criticising the government’s behaviour in an incident involving the police, a dissident ruling party legislator and several journalists. He has been awaiting the verdict of his trial since 28 July.

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