Burundi court upholds stiff sentences for four journalists
A Burundi court has upheld two-and-a-half year prison sentences imposed on four journalists, their media outlet said on Friday, prompting immediate condemnation from rights organisations.
The journalists were working for Iwacu, one of Burundi's few independent media outlets, when they were arrested in October 2019 while covering an incursion of rebels from neighbouring DR Congo.
They were charged with endangering state security and sentenced in January.
We are in shock. I have just learned that the appeals court upheld the sentence against our four colleagues and I feel a deep sense of sadness and injustice
“We are in shock. I have just learned that the appeals court upheld the sentence against our four colleagues and I feel a deep sense of sadness and injustice,” said Antoine Kubarahe, the founder of Iwacu.
He said the group's lawyers had told them the verdict was announced on Thursday in the absence of lawyers or the accused.
A source in the judiciary requesting anonymity confirmed the outcome of the appeal.
The verdict came on the same day as the constitutional court rejected the opposition's bid to have the result of the country's May 20 general election overturned due to alleged fraud.
The court declared the ruling party's candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye the president-elect.
Ndayishimiye, 52, a former army general who was handpicked by ruling party elites to succeed veteran President Pierre Nkurunziza, will be sworn in August for a seven-year mandate.
We were told it would be a new era in Burundi. But for Iwacu it is starting very badly
“We were told it would be a new era in Burundi. But for Iwacu it is starting very badly,” said Kaburahe, who lives in exile in Belgium.
Burundi has been gripped by crisis since Nkurunziza's disputed third term bid in 2015 led to violence that left at least 1,200 dead and saw 400,000 flee the country.
The regime tightened its grip on the country, and allegations of rights violations by security forces have soared in recent years.
The Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) denounced “this travesty of justice, which constitutes a flagrant attempt to silence one of the few remaining sources of independent information in Burundi.”
“This verdict is a new warning for the last Burundian journalists trying to do their job, in a country where international journalists have not been able to go for years and where most civil society actors are in exile,” FIDH President Alice Mogwe said in a statement.
“The intended message of this decision is very clear: 'stop trying to cover events hostile to the regime and don't go where the regime has not invited you'.”