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Burundi15 January 2002

Communications minister suspends independent news agency

In a letter to President Pierre Buyoya, RSF protested the

private news agency Net Press’s suspension. The organisation urged the head

of state to take all necessary measures to ensure that the National

Communications Council (Conseil national de la Communication, CNC) annuls

the decision. "This decision by the minister of communications appears to be

of a completely arbitrary nature. If press law violations were indeed found

to have occurred, we cannot understand why the minister did not alert the

legal authorities," stated Robert Ménard, the organisation’s

secretary-general. "Net Press is known in Burundi for its critical stance

towards the authorities. We are led to believe that this is the sole reason

for the suspension," Ménard added. The organisation also requested that

Article 33 of the Press Law be repealed. The article allows the minister of

communications to suspend media outlets "in case of emergency".

According to information collected by RSF, on 14 January 2002, the minister

of communications signed order no. 580/01/2002, indefinitely suspending Net

Press. The agency is being punished because of the "subversive, defamatory,

insulting and deceptive" quality of its publications, which "undermine

national unity, order, security and public morality". The CNC is expected to

either approve or annul the decision during its next working session.

RSF also recalls that Net Press director Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested

and taken to the Bujumbura Criminal Investigation Department’s offices on 21

December 2001. He was accused of

insulting the state prosecutor in a press release issued by the electronic

news agency Le Témoin. Yet Kavumbagu does not work for this media outlet. Le

Témoin is an underground agency that distributes information via e-mail. The

persons in charge of the agency remain anonymous. The state prosecutor

ordered Kavumbagu’s release seven days later.

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