Reporters Without Borders hailed the release today of Serge Nibizi, the editor-in-chief of privately-owned Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), Domitile Kiramvu, a well-known RPA presenter, and Mathias Manirakiza, the director of privately-owned radio Isanganiro. All three were acquitted yesterday of “disseminating information likely to disturb public order and security.”
“Their release and the acquittals that preceded it are a victory for common-sense and peace,” the press freedom organisation said. “Nonetheless, these three journalists spent several weeks in jail although they were innocent. To avoid any repetition of this kind of injustice, we call on President Pierre Nkurunziza to quickly amend the laws that allow journalists to be imprisoned. There are more urgent things to be done in Burundi than punish critical journalists.”
Nibizi and Kiramvu were arrested on 22 November while Manirakiza was arrested a week later. A fourth journalist who is currently abroad, Corneille Nibaruta, was tried in absentia on the same charges and was also acquitted. They were prosecuted for reporting in August that the army had been preparing to simulate an attack on the presidential palace in order to support claims that there had been a coup attempt against government.
Presiding judge François Narugama said: “The court heard the claims of the prosecution but found them to be without foundation.” During the trial, which began on 24 November, the state prosecutor asked that the journalists be jailed for three years for violating Burundi’s media law. They should have been freed yesterday but for procedural reasons, their release did not take place until shortly after midday today.